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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Barcelona's Pique wins as Davis Cup shake-up approved at ITF meeting

Football star behind reform plan to create November finals with 18 teams: 12 winners from 24-team home and away qualifying ties in February, previous year's four semi-finalists and two wild-card nations

David Haggerty, right, celebrates with Gerard Pique during the ITF annual general meeting in Orlando. AFP
David Haggerty, right, celebrates with Gerard Pique during the ITF annual general meeting in Orlando. AFP

World tennis chiefs on Thursday approved a radical Davis Cup revamp championed by Barcelona star Gerard Pique that will overhaul the 118-year-old competition, condensing the annual worldwide showpiece into an 18-team, week-long event.

The shake-up for the men's team tournament received 71.43 per cent support from about 120 delegates at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) annual meeting in Orlando, well ahead of the two-thirds majority needed for approval.

Kosmos, an investment group led by Pique with Japanese and Chinese support, will spend $3 billion (Dh11bn) over 25 years on the new event, with a European host for 2019 expected to be announced later this month.

"I think Davis Cup has untapped potential," Pique said. "We had to bring this competition again to the top of the tennis world. This is what we expect.

"Now we have a lot of work to do, with the federations, with the players. We want to know what the players want and make the best world possible."

The current Davis Cup format is a knockout event played in February, July, September and November at home and away venues around the globe, best-of-five match ties following grand slam events until the final round.

Many top players have skipped it in recent years to ease their schedule.

The reform plan will create November finals with 18 teams: 12 winners from 24-team home and away qualifying ties in February, the previous year's four semi-finalists and two wild-card nations.

Round-robin groups of three would send six group winners and two runners-up into knockout round play-offs.

The finals would feature two singles matches and one doubles match each day, all cut to best-of-three sets.

ITF president David Haggerty supported the changes despite calls by some that it would mean the death of the Davis Cup, with Britain, Germany and Australia among those opposing the plan.

"For us, the result is a bitter disappointment which has initially left us stunned," said German federation president Ulrich Klaus.

Now Haggerty hopes to heal the divide within his group and inspire players to support the new event in what had been the first week of their November off-season.

"There are no good guys and bad guys. We all have to come together. we all want what's best for tennis and the Davis Cup," Haggerty said. "It was very respectful in the room. Everyone listened to each other."

"There's a risk in not doing anything. I feel very comfortable that this is not a risk for the Davis Cup. It's the right thing to do."

Pique spoke to the assembly and tried to heal the divide as well, saying, "To the ones that voted against we'll try to prove that we can deliver the greatest Davis Cup competition ever."

"Obviously its a very big change, one of the most big changes in the history of Davis Cup. That's why I understand the people who can doubt," Pique said later. "At the end of the day, the whole thing is great. It guarantees the future of Davis Cup for 25 years."

Pique played the first half of Barcelona's final pre-season game against Boca Juniors on Wednesday evening, then travelled to Orlando to make his pitch in person, missing club training with Barca on Thursday. He said he planned to rest ahead of Barca's opening Spanish league game of the season against Alaves on Saturday.

"I didn't sleep for the last 24 hours. because I was preparing the speech when I was on the plane," he said. "I fly out yesterday night just after the game in Spain. I arrive here half an hour before the vote.

"Now I need to celebrate with the team, rest a lot because I have a football game on Saturday -- my career is very important also -- and then start to work for the Davis Cup."

Also backing the reconstituted event is US billionaire Larry Ellison, who hopes his Indian Wells tennis facility could host the 2021 edition of the finals.

Haggerty said the arrangement would provide about $25 million annually for national tennis associations to invest in grassroots level support, with the United States, France and Spain among those thought to support the move.

Aussie Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt calls the plan a "money grab" and Davis Cup legend John Newcombe said it was "a recipe for the death of the Davis Cup as we know it."

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Read more:

Rod Laver leads Australia's tennis heroes in Davis Cup reform fight

ITF confident $3 billion Davis Cup revamp will secure tennis' future