LONDON (Reuters) – Argentina and Great Britain, recent winners of the Davis Cup, were on Wednesday handed wild cards to compete in next year’s finals of the revamped competition.
Argentina, 2016 victors, and Britain, who won the previous year, have been selected to join the four semi-finalists from this year’s edition — champions France, finalists Croatia, Spain and United States — in the climax to the 2019 event.
Those nations will be joined in the new week-long, 18-team finals in November 2019 by 12 more who will secure their places from a dozen qualifying ties which are to be drawn on Wednesday in London and will be staged in February.
Argentina and Britain were due to compete in the qualifiers but will now be spared that hurdle after the Davis Cup steering committee gave them a straight pass into the finals, which will be staged in either Lille or Madrid.
Australia and Switzerland, the highest-ranked unseeded nations that lost in the 2018 World Group playoffs, will take their place as seeded nations in the qualifiers.
The makeover of the premier team event in men’s tennis has been made by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), in partnership with the investment group Kosmos, founded by Barcelona and Spain soccer player Gerard Pique.
The steering committee, comprised of Pique, former Spanish player Galo Blanco, ITF president David Haggerty and ITF vice president Rene Stammbach, have given wild cards to two nations with a rich Davis Cup history and a bit of star power.
Argentina, led by Juan Martin del Potro, won their first title in 2016 in their fifth Davis Cup final while the British team won their 10th title thanks to an inspired performance from Andy Murray.
With Kosmos promising to invest more than 90 million pounds into the Davis Cup and grassroots tennis, the idea of the revamp is to attract the biggest names to the finals, with both Murray and Del Potro fitting that bill.
With Switzerland and Australia now seeded, it also improves the prospects of the likes of Swiss duo Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, and Australian Nick Kyrgios featuring in the finals.
The last of the finals to be staged under the traditional format will see France attempting to defend their crown against Croatia in Lille on Nov. 23-25.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge)