© Ella Ling

Miami 2012 - Nadal vamos 2

Should Davis Cup matches be best of three sets?

   

The absence of the world’s top four from Davis Cup competition this week will no doubt spark the continued debate about what should be done to get all the top players competing in the sport’s premier team event on a more regular basis.

There are many within the sport who feel that change is needed if the Davis Cup, which began in 1900 but which has seen many of the game’s real stars choose to skip ties and even full years in order to concentrate on their individual career, is to thrive.

Each of the top four has their reason to take a rest this week, most of all Roger Federer, since Switzerland are not playing. The other three are all desperate to make a flying start to their clay-court season and so Djokovic, whose 2010 triumph with Serbia was the start of his rise to the very top, Nadal, who will soon chase an eighth straight Monte Carlo triumph and Murray will all sit out their respective ties.

Does their absence this weekend weaken the competition and increase the calls for change? It’s a tough one to answer. Nadal has been a stalwart of the Spain side for years but such is their strength in depth, that they can field any four of about 10 players and be competitive against anyone. With no Djokovic, Serbia still have Janko Tipsarevic and Victor Troicki.

Murray’s decision not to play for Britain against Belgium is a little more contentious, if entirely expected and perfectly understandable. The Scot said at the start of 2012 that Britain are now at the level they deserve – in the second tier – and that although gaining promotion to the World Group is possible, this year is about consolidation. He is focused on trying to win a grand slam title.

In a time when the sport has become more physical, playing potentially three five-set matches, two singles and one doubles, in the space of three days, takes an enormous effort. The idea of playing three-set matches instead has been suggested, while some feel that making it every other year would be more sensible.

Francesco Ricci Bitti, the president of the International Tennis Federation, which runs the Davis Cup, repeatedly says the format is sound. He is clearly protecting his brand – when the idea of a new World Cup style event came up a couple of years ago he said there was no reason for Davis Cup to worry – and he is bound to fight his corner.

The introduction of ranking points for World Group ties was supposed to help the top players compete more often but that has proved more contentious, especially for the likes of Murray, whose nation is outside the top tier. Is the effort he makes when playing a tie worth any less than someone who plays for a country blessed with enough good players to be in the World Group?

The ATP have done well to knock a few weeks off the season and give the players more of an off-season. Fitting the Davis Cup into that more crowded, but shorter, calendar is an obvious issue. The problem is that with so many competing interests, getting agreement and getting anything done takes time.

If the top players came out and said: “we’re not playing Davis Cup any more” it might force change. But each of them – including Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray – love playing for their country. This weekend’s ties are all interesting, with the France v USA clash in Monte Carlo bound to have the attention of many in the sport.

Something has to change it seems, but perhaps it will be better served by small tweaks (three-set matches), than a huge overhaul. For the smaller nations, those down the pecking order, the money they receive from the ITF and Davis Cup is often a lifeline. Take that away and the differences between rich and poor nations would be even bigger.

Now unless I have been sleeping over the past few weeks, the news that the final of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will be played on a Monday night this year came as something of a surprise, if totally understandable. The Monday-Monday confirmation seemed to be snuck in together with the launch of the ticket sales for this year.

The changes to the ATP Tour calendar – in particular, removing the week off between Bercy and London to give the players an extra week of off-season – could have made life very difficult for the players trying to qualify for London in the final week. It also opened up the risk that those already qualified would skip Paris to rest. The new calendar doesn’t allow much time to do too many promotional activities in the week before.

But the event is now so well established that it is not as necessary as it was when it first came to London in 2010 and the players will make the necessary adjustments.