By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – A planned radical revamp of the Davis Cup could be in jeopardy after Tennis Australia said in a strongly worded letter that it planned to “vote against the proposed amendments” since the reform process has been “far from transparent”.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) had been hoping its proposal to transform the 118-year-old men’s competition into an 18-team season finale would be given the green light at its Aug. 13 to 16 AGM in Orlando, Florida.
But Tennis Australia said in the letter, addressed to the “President, Board and CEOs of Davis Cup Nations” and seen by Reuters, that it would not endorse the ITF’s World Cup of Tennis Finals, which will replace the Davis Cup and be played in one location over seven days scheduled for November 2019.
Tennis Australia said there was no clarity over the 25-year, $3 billion (2.31 billion pounds) partnership to stage the event with investment group Kosmos, which was founded by Barcelona and Spain soccer player Gerard Pique, and described by the ITF as a ‘game-changer’.
The letter has been signed by Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley plus several former Australia Davis Cup captains as well as incumbent Lleyton Hewitt.
“We have written and spoken to the ITF President for several months now requesting clarity on the proposal from Kosmos, but this has not been forthcoming,” said the letter, which was also signed by four past and present Tennis Australia senior officials, including former ITF president Brian Tobin.
“Very large numbers are being referenced, but there is not enough detail to give us confidence this proposal will genuinely deliver enough additional value to players and the nations to offset the loss of home and away camaraderie and all the local marketing, facility investment and player development benefit that comes with those ties.
“In the absence of such important information, we have no choice other than to vote against the proposed amendments.”
Tennis Europe, a regional governing body representing 50 member nations, also opposed the proposal.
“I am particularly concerned that there is hardly any information received from the ITF regarding bank guarantees for the proposed US$120 million per year which would be the $3 billion deal over 25 years, according to the original proposal,” Tennis Europe President Vladimir Dmitriev said in a separate letter also seen by Reuters.
“I have not yet seen a final and feasible explanation on how the business model or the governance structure will be either.”
The ITF’s shake-up of the Davis Cup has been undermined after the men’s governing body, the ATP, announced plans to introduce a rival World Team Cup, a men’s event offering $15 million in prize money plus ranking points, into the calendar from early 2020 in Australia.
A smaller World Team Cup was held from 1978 to 2012 in Duesseldorf, Germany but offered no ranking points. The new competition is expected to be a part of the build-up to January’s Australian Open.
Last month the ITF accused the ATP of not working together “in a beneficial and positive way for the whole of tennis”, but the prospect of staging two rival team competitions within a few weeks in a crowded men’s calendar has divided the players.
“The recent decision by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) to implement the World Team Cup in Australia leads us to believe that a significant number of players will boycott the planned Davis Cup format because it has an unfavourable date, and no ranking points will be awarded,” Dmitriev added.
“Many questions have been put forward: has the due diligence audit been updated after the withdrawal of the ATP and the players? Why are the discussions about $41 million dollar guarantees and not about 120 million dollars?
“What is the worst-case scenario, if we discover in a few years that the business model doesn’t work, and Kosmos opts out of the deal?
“These are all very good questions and until they are answered satisfactorily, I cannot see the real benefit for European nations or for tennis in general as a result of the deal in the proposed format.”
The ITF’s team event to replace the Davis Cup plans to bring together the 16 leading nations plus two wildcards in one city for a week-long climax to the season.
It has left traditionalists mourning the loss of the home-and-away format that can generate partisan atmospheres.
“Most of our player and past player resistance to this proposal comes from changes to the very essence of what they see is the greatness of Davis Cup competition,” the Tennis Australia letter added.
“Stripping away the best of five sets, cutting three days to two and losing the majority of the home and away component is effectively making it an entirely different, and in our view, a less compelling competition.
“This is too much change all at once to get support and buy in from the player group.
“In light of the absence of crucial information, Tennis Australia will oppose the current proposed changes to the Davis Cup. We cannot agree to throw away the 118 years of history without absolutely understanding, in detail, where it takes us.”
The ITF could not be immediately reached for comment.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris)