Tennis’ last annual event of the 2017 season – the Davis Cup final featuring France and Belgium – ensured that the sport’s followers shut the season as they had begun it: on an enthusiastic-yet-edgy note.
France’s 3-2 win wasn’t straightforward, despite merely one rubber being extended to four sets, but the tie ensured that fans – across the world – remained engaged instead of holding onto the rationale of being neutral observers.
The unbridled excitement that surrounded the 2017 Davis Cup final, then, came in the wake of the changes that have been made to the tournament structure in the year. And, these changes themselves have had been the result of the myriad skepticisms raised about the event’s continuity and the resultant propositions made to counter these, extending back to the 2016 season.
Back in 2016, the ITF stopped awarding ranking points to the players which made it a tougher bargain for them to prioritise the Davis Cup over their ATP Tour commitments, there was also a proposition to alter the tournament structure, even to the extent of playing the final at a neutral venue moving from the home-and-away standards.
David Haggerty, the ITF president, even went on to say “There is real change intended. In the past, the players felt like there was no response like the ITF didn’t care. We need to make informed decisions. There will be a positive change and we want to move this competition, the largest annual team competition in the world, ahead.” Calls from leading names in the sport – including Andy Murray – saw to it that the idea was shunted aside.
But, insistent clamoring about implementing these suggested modifications meant that the idea never went out of mind entirely. What gave additional credence to this aspect was that that the ITF board of directors, in the federation’s annual general meeting in August 2017, were empowered to decide on introducing trials to the Davis and Fed Cups as they saw fit.
Accordingly, the new set of format changes – with inter-zonal ties being reduced to best-of-three sets, and the number of days being shortened to two instead of three – was announced soon thereafter in October, to be introduced in the 2018 season.
Thus, regardless of whether the true-blue tennis – and Davis Cup – fans were onboard with such perceived idea of changes, the outlook looked to have narrowed to a niche for the only team event in a sport which values its players’ individuality as much as their wins.
Introduction of the Laver CupIn this regard, in 2017, the Davis Cup faced a novel rivaling entity in the newly-launched Laver Cup. The tributary-initiative, featuring Team Europe and Team World, had an ensemble line-up in its inaugural edition, led by Roger Federer – whose business company Team8 is one of the creators of the tournament – and Rafael Nadal for the European squad.
The event more than lived up to its billing. This success of the Laver Cup, then, prompted doubts anew as to if the presence of this tournament would see the Davis Cup fade away? The multiplying of this wariness led to Tony Godsick, Federer’s business partner in Team8 and his agent, clarifying about the differences in the two tournaments.
“The ITF and the Davis Cup, this country versus country, happens four times a year, you don’t know where it’s going to be, the surface changes, it’s got a lot of history, and that’s sort of the Davis Cup,” said Godsick in an interview with Sports360.
He also added, “We are region versus region, we happen once a year, we take the Olympic year off, we don’t play three-out-of-five sets, we’re a completely different product.” In the end, as it were, much like in the three-day affair that was the Laver Cup, the palpability of excitement in the Davis Cup also built to a crescendo as the tournament approached its final stages in the year.
September’s semi-finals had France edge out a weary Serbian line-up at home in Villeneuve-d'Ascq, while the David Goffin-led Belgian team curtailed the aspirations of the Australians in Brussels. And, while the final did have its share of intrepid team-selection – specifically on the part of the French skipper, Yannick Noah – it did end on a momentous note.
Not only for France, which captured its 10th Davis Cup title and first since 2001, but also for those 25,000-odd supporters who came out in droves to display their resurgent fandom. .