When France visits Serbia in December to determine the winner of the 2010 Davis Cup, few outside those countries will pay notice. Once one of the biggest annual sporting events in the world, the Davis Cup has become a sporting afterthought, even to those who follow tennis.
How did this happen? How did a 110-year-old event become mostly irrelevant to the sporting public? Busted Racquet looks at four of the biggest reasons:
1. The best players don't play enough. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have both taken part in a number of Davis Cup competitions, but the rigors of the ATP schedule make it difficult for them to play every round. They're not alone. Only six of the top-20 players took part in Davis Cup competition over the weekend and that was after the schedule was moved to accommodate players who wanted this round of competition moved to after the U.S. Open. Most players want to play Davis Cup, but it becomes logistically and physically difficult. Thus, it's one of the first things that gets dropped from a schedule.
2. The competition is too spread out. Davis Cup is like the NHL season. I'm always surprised how long it drags on and even more stunned when it begins again so soon. The first Davis Cup matches were on March 5 of this year. The final competition ends exactly nine months later on Dec. 5.
3. It happens every year. This ties in with the last one. The Davis Cup is perpetually ongoing. Because of that, it ceases to become an event and instead turns into an endless cycle of confusing matches. (See No. 4.) There's no exclusivity to the matches and little anticipation. It's the definition of having too much of a good thing. The Olympics and World Cup thrive because they take place once every four years. Golf's Ryder Cup happens once every two years. There's a three-month break for the Davis Cup. Leave 'em wanting more, as the old saying goes.
4. Consolation rounds. Twenty national teams played in Davis Cup competition over the weekend, four in the main draw of the Davis Cup and 16 in the World Group Playoffs that determine which countries qualify for the 2011 competition. These playoffs are confusing and shouldn't be played at the same time as the main matches. It'd be like the NFL holding preseason games at the same time as the Super Bowl. Don't water down the semifinals of the main event by holding relegation matches at the same time. Leave the final four to their own stage.
The solution: The Davis Cup needs a big overhaul. Tennis purists will scoff, but the sobering fact is that few players and nations value the competition as much as they did in the past. Changes like cutting the number of rounds or playing best-of-three matches are cosmetic and won't fix the heart of the problem. If the Davis Cup wants to become relevant, it needs to think big and act bigger.
Our suggestion is to scrap the current system and hold one week-long competition every two years for the final eight teams. It will likely bring together the best players in the world at one site, draw the attention of the international press and solve a number of the issues that negatively affect the tournament today. There can still be qualifying matches held in host countries (something organizers value), but the tournament-style atmosphere will draw in casual sports fans and give a boost to a once-great competition that long ago lost its luster.