A tournament more relevant to this age is needed to fill the space left by a downsizing and possible abandonment of the Davis Cup – a competition now drifting from the public’s consciousness as it is deserted by top players and television.
It is not as if a World Cup has not been debated before by those insiders exasperated by the inability of administrators to see past the Davis Cup. They are increasingly strident that something new needs to be tried.
That this is an idea inspired by professionals from the outside, with a sporting background and a healthy understanding of what tennis needs to sustain its relevance means much more.
“Tennis demands the ultimate international championship of nations. The world is waiting for the World Cup,” reads the brochure that has been laid at the door of three of the four Grand Slam nations – Britain, the US and Australia – a host of its superstar players and TV moguls worldwide.
The TV world is believed to be insisting on a male tournament on the premise that it wants higher ratings.
At the recent ATP World Tour Finals, 260000 people filed through the turnstiles to watch, the biggest single-week crowd yet at the O2 arena in London.
A month earlier, in Doha, Qatar, despite the presence of the Williams sisters, Dinara Safina, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Caroline Wozniacki in the women’s equivalent, the stadium was at best half-full for the majority of the sessions.
If the players fall in love with the concept and a place can be found in the cluttered calendar – which would mean the Davis Cup forfeiting its stranglehold over four blocks of the year or certain tournaments on the ATP Tour being bought out by TV companies and sponsors eager for the World Cup to come to fruition – one can imagine the scramble from nations desperate to host a biennial event.
Which brings us to how it would work. Although determining the process of qualification for the finals is in the embryonic stage, the 32 nations who qualify would play off for the title of world champion in one venue over 10 days. Eight pools of four would compete in a round-robin phase during the first week and 16 progress to the knockout phase.
Where the concept is truly bold and innovative is that teams would consist of three players and a captain and in each of the single best-of-five-set matches that would decide each tie, at least two players would compete, with one player having to play a minimum of six games.
So, if Switzerland met Spain, one or either of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal would have to be substituted at some stage, making the role of the captain far more relevant than the banana-peeling, “whisper a few words at changeovers” role of the present Davis Cup captain.
The no-advantage rule that has been such a success in doubles on the ATP Tour would be replicated in the World Cup and there would be an enforced 25-second gap between points – a clock would be placed on the court so spectators could see that the rule was not being flouted, unlike the present situation in which the umpire keeps a check but often overlooks 35- or 40-second gaps in play.
If any set went to a tiebreak, it would be decided by the first to five points, with no requirement for a two-point gap. It is believed that no match would last longer than 2½ hours.
The acid test will be selling it to a famously conservative sport, most notably the ITF, who run the Davis Cup and spread the monies they receive from the event to federations worldwide. – Neil Harman © The Times, London