World Cup of tennis: Rival ITF and ATP plans in ‘race against time’

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The International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the men’s ATP Tour could be involved in a “race against time” to establish rival plans for a new World Cup of Tennis.

The ITF announced its plans in February, in association with the investment group Kosmos, for an 18-team end-of-season event which will crown the Davis Cup champions from 2019.

But the event is very similar to one the ATP is expecting to introduce in Australia in the first week of the season – most probably from 2020.

And according to Britain’s Jamie Murray, a member of the ATP Player Council since 2016, there is no room for both events in the schedule.

“No, it’s not going to happen. I think it’s kind of a race against time now to see who can officially announce it,” he told BBC Sport.

The ITF’s board of directors has unanimously endorsed the organisation’s plan for a 25-year, $3bn (£2.13bn) partnership with Kosmos. The proposal is subject to due diligence and the signing of a formal agreement with the company, which was founded by the Spain and Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique.

The plan will also need to attract a two-thirds majority when it is put before the ITF’s member nations at this year’s annual general meeting in Orlando, Florida.

But as the meeting does not take place until August, there is still time for the ATP to establish its own event in the calendar from January 2020.

ATP sources have been tight-lipped about their intentions since the ITF’s dramatic announcement in February. But in a statement to BBC Sport, the ATP’s executive chairman Chris Kermode made it clear an announcement may be imminent.

“Our focus remains on bringing the ATP World Team Cup back into the calendar, an exciting project which we’ve been working on for over 18 months now, with the last few details still to be finalised,” Kermode said.

“We believe we have a strong option in partnership with Tennis Australia in week one of the calendar, utilising locations which are known to showcase the sport in a very positive way.

“It’s an option that would cause minimal disruption to existing player scheduling given that the vast majority of players are playing that week already in the southern hemisphere, and we continue to work towards bringing the event to fruition.

“The Davis Cup has over 100 years of history and the ITF are clearly looking to evolve the competition in an attempt to maximise its potential. The results of those efforts remain to be seen.”

Murray says he is sympathetic to the ITF’s plans for the reform of the Davis Cup, but indicates that players would prefer the World Team Cup to be an ATP event.

“It’s in January, so it makes sense for all the players to be playing that tournament in the lead-up to the Australian Open. There will obviously be ATP points available as well, and potentially more money on the table for the players,” he says.

There has been frustration among some of the players at their association’s inability to strike a deal with Kosmos, as the group had approached the ATP before the ITF.

It is understood discussions hit a roadblock over Kosmos’ desire to stage the event in Asia – Singapore and Japan are most frequently mentioned – in late November and early December. The group is backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman and chief executive of Rakuten, an ecommerce company based in Tokyo.

It is this proposal for an end-of-season time slot that may yet derail the ITF’s plans. Even if the event concludes at the same time as the existing Davis Cup final, which seems unlikely given the distance some players would have to travel from the ATP Finals in London, it would limit the off-season to five weeks for a much expanded group of players.

“I understand why the ITF are trying to to do something – they’ve kind of been forced into it,” Murray continued.

“The players have been asking for a format change for a long time.

“I’ve had amazing experiences playing in the Davis Cup, but ultimately I’m aware that the competition is kind of dying in that they don’t have guaranteed top-player participation.

“This is obviously their way of trying to get top participation back but is that going to work at the end of November, beginning of December?

“I’m not so sure, really. I don’t see how the real top guys are going to commit to doing that in what already is a really long season.”

One ITF source told me some on the board of directors would like to see the event staged earlier in the season, but that would require the cooperation of the ATP, which schedules Davis Cup weeks.

The other headache for the ITF is winning the required two-thirds of the vote at the AGM. Last August, a far less radical proposal to alter Davis Cup matches to the best of three tie-break sets attracted only 63.54% support from member nations.

This year, with vast money on the table from Kosmos, the ITF is promising “substantial revenues for global tennis development”, as well as “significant increases in prize money for players”. There has also been a strong indication they would like to run the women’s Fed Cup along similar lines in future.

Will that be enough to carry the day in the face of opposition to the end of home-and-away ties in the top flight of the Davis Cup? Or will the plan unravel if the ATP strikes first?

“We don’t want to go to war,” is the message from one ITF insider.



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