The Davis Cup is the largest international team sport competition. It is the premier team competition in men’s professional tennis and has a long history, dating back to 1900. It is run by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) not the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour so there has been tension through the years between the two organizations and players about the format and the role of Davis Cup in the extremely busy, modern men’s professional tennis calendar. Because it is not an event on the ATP Tour, no rankings points are awarded and there is not the big prize money of a Grand Slam or Master’s 1000 event. This has caused some of the top players to skip the event and they would prefer to save their energy and focus on improving their ranking points and increasing their prize money.
On the other hand, it gives players the opportunity to be part of a team in a solitary sport. Camaraderie is not usually a part of tennis and watching one of the training sessions this week, I see that they do enjoy each other’s company and being a team. The Davis Cup also brings the sport all over the world, with 155 nations entering teams this year. For many years, every round was formatted as a head-to-head, best-of-five series with one country hosting the series. I loved attending the Davis Cup ties (Davis Cup calls the 5-match series a “tie”) in Belgrade, Serbia while we were living there. Novak Djokovic of course was the main driver of Serbia’s success and I remember watching the team in their run to the 2010 Davis Cup title. Davis Cup ties are also usually louder than regular tennis matches as players and fans alike are more patriotic and enthusiastic during the matches. Nadia and I also attended the Serbia vs. USA tie in March, 2010 in Belgrade. In looking at my blog from our time living in Serbia, we also attended the Federation Cup tie between Russia and Serbia. The Federation Cup is the women’s professional tennis equivalent of the Davis Cup.
The format of the Davis Cup changed in 2019. The idea was to make it into the tennis equivalent of soccer’s World Cup and to get all of the best players to commit to the event. They brought together the top 16 teams and played a round-robin and then knockout format over two weeks at one site. It has not generated the attention of the world like the World Cup. I think the problem is the ATP and WTA also hold team competitions. There is the United Cup in January in Australia, which is a co-ed preparatory tournament for the Australian Open similar to the old Hopman Cup. The Laver Cup is another team event that pits Europe vs. the rest of the world in September in Vancouver. It is also hard to break the Grand Slam Tournament’s hold on the public. When people think tennis, the US Open, Wimbledon, Roland Garros and Aussie Open come to mind, not the Davis Cup.
The Davis Cup did maintain a qualifying round in the old format. It is shortened from 3 days to 2 days and the matches are reduced from best-of-five sets to best-of-three sets. I was delighted to learn that Team USA drew Uzbekistan and the tie is taking place at my home club, the Olympic Tennis School here in Tashkent! Wow! Tommy Paul goes from playing Novak Djokovic in the Aussie Open semifinals on ESPN to playing on Uzbekistan television on a court with a seating capacity of around 500 people and an opponent ranked #491.
The United States Tennis Association has been great! USTA director Megan Rose arranged for our students to visit one of the training sessions and found tickets for our community to attend the Saturday matches. Oliver and I have been so pumped to watch the event! This is the appeal of Davis Cup; it brings professional tennis to places that usually don’t host events. It spreads interest in the sport and I think this will benefit the game more than trying to make a World Cup out of it. I hope they go back to the old format.