Hours before lining up for Barcelona in their La Liga match against Girona last Saturday, Gerard Pique gave a presentation to the International Tennis Federation proposing a radical change that could make or break the men’s game.
“Together we can elevate the Davis Cup to new heights by putting on a must-see World Cup of Tennis Finals featuring the top nations and top players,” said the 31-year old footballer, who for a long time has had entrepreneurial ambitions he plans to pursue now and long after hanging up his boots.
The Spaniard, with the backing of Barcelona shirt sponsors Rakuten, is set to cough up an investment of £2.2 billion – spread over a 25 year period – to help transform the Davis Cup into an 18-nation extravaganza.
This would mean the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could all compete for up to £14.1 million in prize money as part of the revamp set to take place next year.
Pique is a huge tennis fanatic. The proud Catalan tries to get to as many events in his native Spain as possible, which even includes throwing himself into the lion’s den by visiting rival city Madrid to watch the sport he adores. Now he plans to help it reach new heights.
The World Cup of Tennis Finals – which would take place over the course of a week in November – is both his and the ITF’s answer to prolong the sport’s historic men’s team competition as a major global sporting event.
For many the change is needed. The Davis Cup has been stuttering at late and needs to be regenerated into something that will get people talking about it again.
A final meeting is scheduled for August in Orlando, USA to decide whether to finalise the proposal. A two-thirds majority is needed to give the new tournament the green light.
The format of the new competition would follow a similar set-up to that of many World Cups in other sports, with an initial round robin (six groups of three) followed by a knockout phase (quarter-finals, semi-finals and final). The 16 World Group nations will automatically qualify for the finals, with a further two places up for grabs.
Pique may see this as the new big thing for tennis, but there are still question marks about one or two aspects of the Spaniard’s proposed blockbuster.
One of the greatest aspects of the Davis Cup was the home and away ties. Playing on different surfaces and either with or against a home crowd provided every nation with a different challenge at every round. Having the World Cup located in one place could hinder that.
This new competition could therefore follow the example of others World Cup and have a different host each year. With countries bidding for the Finals, it could help grab fans attention and generate that level of excitement knowing that the tournament was coming to your home city.
With 18 nations taking part you’d expect around 100 tennis stars to be involved in the week-long event. Normally it’s only during one of the Grand Slams where you’d have the opportunity to see all your favourite players in one place. This again makes it appealing for countries who aren’t home to one of the four major tournaments and can accommodate so many fans and athletes to bid for the competition.
To host something of this magnitude costs a lot of money though, and with Japanese company Rakuten pledging their allegiance into the project, there is a good chance that the World Cup will take place somewhere in Asia.
Another issue would be player participation. The exhausting ATP Tour season and gruelling Grand Slams already make it a demanding calendar for the stars. Injuries have hijacked the sport’s biggest names in recent years, with many of the top players deciding to finish their season in October so that they can fully recover and recharge the batteries.
The Davis Cup has had a constant struggle with this problem in recent times, with only two of the current top 10 in the rankings taking part in the first round of the competition earlier this year.
The money may be an enticing incentive for the players, but you’d feel that more will be needed to get the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray fully on board and extend their seasons by another couple of weeks.
Pique has also got to think about sustaining the competition past it’s initial phase.
You’d assume that for the first couple of years people will flock into the arenas to see this new competition.
However, should the World Cup fall on it’s head and not provide the entertainment or the big names it intends too, attendance numbers could stutter. The WTA Finals is a prime example of this. The climatic showstopper for the women’s tour is moving to Shenzhen in China next year after spending four years in Singapore. Unfortunately, the tournament failed to entice the locals to come and watch. The Spaniard will have to keep things fresh to keep the interest going.
It won’t be perfect from the very first moment and it will take getting some adjusting too. But Pique has seemingly provided himself to the ITF that he can make this huge change a successful one.
Ambitious projects such as these aren’t new to the Barcelona defender. For years the 31-year-old has voiced his support for Catalan independence – which was won in a referendum back in October. He even said he would step down from Spain duties should his opinion cause a disturbance within the Royal Spanish Football Federation. He has already played a part in creating a new chapter for Catalonia, now he was ready to do the same again for men’s tennis.