Davis Cup is in­tense and a work in progress

While Nadal in­spired Spain to glory in Madrid, new for­mat has scope to im­prove

The National - News - - SPORT - REEM ABULEIL

For an event that had been heav­ily crit­i­cised months be­fore it even started, the Davis Cup Madrid Fi­nals prob­a­bly proved many of its de­trac­tors wrong.

The re­vamped ver­sion of the 119-year-old team event de­buted in the Span­ish cap­i­tal and saw 18 na­tions come to­gether for a seven-day tour­na­ment at the Caja Mag­ica that con­cluded with a vic­tory for a Rafael Nadal-led Spain over Canada on Sun­day.

Fast-paced ac­tion and emo­tional scenes across the three sta­di­ums at ‘The Magic Box’ marked Year 1 of Davis Cup Fi­nals. Yet, it is a work in progress.

Ev­ery­thing about this new for­mat is in­tense. You have a group stage that is played over four days, fol­lowed by a knock­out stage of quar­ter-fi­nals, semis and fi­nal.

A best-of-three tie – two sin­gles and one dou­bles – be­tween two na­tions played out in a sin­gle day, as op­posed to the five-match ties con­tested over three days in the pre­vi­ous for­mat. The sur­face was a rel­a­tively fast in­door hard court.

Teams were split into six groups of three, with top­pers se­cur­ing di­rect pas­sage to the quar­ter-fi­nals, along with the two best-placed run­ners-up.

Cham­pi­ons Spain played five ties in six days, and needed every player on their five-man ros­ter to pull it off.

Dur­ing his first post-match press con­fer­ence after he de­feated Karen Khachanov to level the tie for the Spaniards against Rus­sia, Nadal was vis­i­bly stressed and couldn’t keep his eyes off a screen in the cor­ner of the room that was show­ing the dou­bles de­cider.

“Hon­estly, the for­mat makes things very dif­fi­cult be­cause every mis­take puts you in a po­si­tion that you don’t want to be in. And los­ing that first match, we were un­der pres­sure with the rest of the groups,” said Nadal, who had to carry Spain from a los­ing po­si­tion in three separate ties through­out the week.

That added ten­sion pretty much guar­an­teed that every tie fea­tured some real nail-biters; the qual­ity of ten­nis and com­pet­i­tive­ness of each match was off the charts.

The high-in­ten­sity, long con­sec­u­tive days proved quite chal­leng­ing for the play­ers, and Great Bri­tain cap­tain Leon Smith is hop­ing or­gan­is­ers can find a way to im­prove sched­ul­ing for next year’s edi­tion.

“It’s an ad­van­tage to have a day’s grace some­where,” said Smith, whose side played four days in a row be­fore fall­ing to Spain in the semi-fi­nals.

Sched­ul­ing will ob­vi­ously need to be ad­dressed, and not just to try and give teams a day off, but more im­por­tantly to avoid late-night fin­ishes (USA-Italy ended at 4.04am).

But it was nice to watch up close a Davis Cup where it felt every sin­gle point mat­tered.

One of the main rea­sons re­forms were in­tro­duced to Davis Cup was to at­tract the top play­ers back to the com­pe­ti­tion, and that tar­get was mostly achieved. Five of the world’s top 10 came to Madrid.

The play­ers didn’t just at­tend, they played their hearts out. Ser­bia’s tear­ful con­fer­ence fol­low­ing their quar­ter-fi­nal de­feat to Rus­sia said it all.

I’d never wit­nessed such raw emo­tion from a group of play­ers as I did that day – from

Vik­tor Troicki’s apol­ogy to his team­mates, to cap­tain Ne­nad Zi­mon­jic’s tear­ful state­ments about brother­hood and the re­tir­ing Janko Tip­sare­vic, to Filip Kra­ji­novic just silently cry­ing from start to end.

No­vak Djokovic had half his face covered by his cap and could barely look up to an­swer any ques­tions. After fin­ish­ing his press du­ties, the world No 2 lay down on the ground on his back, look­ing ut­terly de­pleted as he waited for his team­mates to fin­ish their in­ter­views.

The Davis Cup may have dra­mat­i­cally changed but the play­ers showed they care about it just the same.

It also felt that the younger play­ers, who are less at­tached to the pre­vi­ous for­mat, were gen­er­ally happy with the new event. Oth­ers, such as Philipp Kohlschrei­ber, 36, ad­mit­ted he “missed a lot of th­ese spe­cial feel­ings” of play­ing in front of a home crowd.

“We still play all for Ger­many,” he said. “This is al­ways very spe­cial. It doesn’t mat­ter, you can put us, I don’t know, on the dark side of the moon and we’re go­ing to play there for Ger­many.”

At­ten­dance greatly var­ied, de­pend­ing on the tie. While hosts Spain and some na­tions at­tracted sell-out crowds, some match-ups were played in front of rel­a­tively empty stands.

One of the things or­gan­is­ers got right was the set-up of the whole venue. The ded­i­cated area of per­son­alised locker rooms cre­ated for each team looked like a mini Olympic Vil­lage, and was a big hit with the play­ers.

From a spectator’s per­spec­tive, the Davis Cup Fi­nals had high en­ter­tain­ment value. A nice added el­e­ment was the fact that dou­bles matches de­cided many of the ties, which prompted sev­eral sin­gles stars – like Nadal, Djokovic, Khachanov and oth­ers – to take part.

Dare I say that dou­bles star Nadal is even more ex­cit­ing than sin­gles star Nadal?

Nadal branded the tour­na­ment “a suc­cess”, and said he pre­dicts a “great fu­ture” for it, but there are some se­ri­ous chal­lenges ahead.

Find­ing a bet­ter slot for the Fi­nals will be a top pri­or­ity for or­gan­is­ers, so it is not so late in the sea­son, and more im­por­tantly, find­ing a big­ger win­dow be­cause seven days is tough.

Other items on the or­gan­is­ers’ agenda for next year should in­clude: at­tract­ing more fans to the venue, sell­ing TV rights deals to wider au­di­ences, im­prov­ing on­line streaming and live scor­ing, and look­ing at the rules to avoid hav­ing dou­bles dead rub­bers.

Getty

Rafael Nadal and his Spain team­mates cel­e­brate win­ning the Davis Cup Fi­nals after seven con­sec­u­tive days of ac­tion in Madrid

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