ITF members approve major overhaul of Davis Cup

Member nations of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have voted in favour of a major reform package for the Davis Cup, with Lille or Madrid to host the first final of the revamped men’s national team event.

ITF members yesterday (Thursday) voted in favour of the project launched in association with investment group Kosmos at the federation’s annual general meeting in Orlando, Florida. Requiring a two-thirds majority to be approved, the plan gained 71.43 per cent of the vote. From 2019, the competition will see 18 nations and the world’s best players compete in a week-long season finale to be crowned Davis Cup champions. The first edition of the new event will be held in Madrid or Lille from November 18-24, with the inaugural host city to be announced in the coming weeks.

ITF president David Haggerty said: “I am delighted that the nations have today voted to secure the long-term status of Davis Cup by BNP Paribas. By voting in favour of these reforms, we will be able to work with Kosmos to realise the huge potential of the competition and elevate it to new standards. This new event will create a true festival of tennis and entertainment which will be more attractive to players, to fans, to sponsors and to broadcasters.

“In addition, the new revenues for nations that the event will generate will have a transformative effect on the development of tennis in all nations. Our mission is to ensure that this historic decision will benefit the next generation of players for decades to come.”

First unveiled in February, the 25-year agreement between the ITF and Kosmos represents a total investment of $3bn (€2.56bn) into tennis, creating historic levels of investment into the global development of the sport through the ITF and its 210-member national associations. There will be a significant increase in the nations’ income from the competition and a new player prize fund of $20m, elevating the Davis Cup to grand slam prize money levels.

The new format will involve a qualifying round in February, in which 24 teams will take part in a home and away matches – a key element of the Davis Cup’s heritage. The 12 winners will secure a direct place into the final and will join the four semifinalists of the previous year – who qualify without having to play in February – and two wildcards that will be announced before the draw for the qualifying round.

The Davis Cup Finals will be held in a round robin format from Monday to Thursday, with the countries divided into six groups and each qualifying round consisting of three matches – two singles and one doubles – of best-of-three sets.

The first placed teams from each group and the two best runners-up will reach the quarterfinals on Friday, while Saturday and Sunday will host the semifinals and the final. The two worst qualified teams from the round robin stage will be relegated to the Zone Groups for the following year and the rest of the nations that did not qualify for the semifinals will have to participate in February’s qualifying round the following season.

The plans had been met with a mixed reaction within the tennis community. Tennis Australia, which is backing a rival competition launched by men’s body the ATP, had said it planned to “vote against the proposed amendments” because the reform process had been “far from transparent”.

Continental body Tennis Europe also opposed the plans ahead of today’s vote, but the ITF pointed to strong backing from three of the four organisers of the sport’s grand slam events – the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), French Tennis Federation (FFT) and United States Tennis Association (USTA).

Kosmos is a company founded and chaired by Barcelona football star Gerard Piqué with the support of Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and chief executive of Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten. Piqué said: “Today is a historic day and we are convinced that the agreement ratified by the nations certainly guarantees the future of the Davis Cup and the development of tennis at all levels.

“This is the beginning of a new stage that guarantees the pre-eminent and legitimate place that the Davis Cup should have as a competition for national teams while adapting to the demands of this professional sport at the highest level. It is a great honour for me to be part of this historic process of a sport that I am passionate about and, without a doubt, in both personal and professional terms this is one of the happiest days of my life.”

The ITF and Kosmos said they have already taken all the necessary steps to successfully consolidate the transition and are planning to announce further details in the coming weeks.