MADRID, November 26, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The popularity of the Spanish Davis Cup team and its universal star Rafael Nadal made the Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals – the first self-styled “World Cup of Tennis” – an emotional success on the tennis court. When Spain beat Canada 2-0 to lift its sixth Davis Cup title in a sold-out La Caja Mágica in Madrid, the new-look Davis Cup closed the book on the 2019 tennis season.
Thanks to Nadal’s success, it’s no surprise that the Spanish capital investment firm Kosmos and its president, Barcelona football star Gerard Piqué, acquired the rights to the Davis Cup from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) last year and started pumping plenty of capital – about $3 billion over 25 years – into the 119-year-old premier international men’s team event in tennis with the idea of combining both history with innovation. This year’s competition at all levels included 133 nations.
During a joint press conference before Sunday’s final, both Piqué and ITA President David Haggerty acknowledged the importance of the history of the Davis Cup and how it has evolved over the years. However, Haggerty reminded critics that “change was necessary so that the global competition can prosper the way that we have a vision of.
“Top players requested change. Sponsorship and broadcast investment was falling. So we listened and we introduced some reforms to achieve really four objects to make it better: For the players, the nations, the sponsors, and the fans.”
Point by point, Haggerty started with the importance of having top players competing in the Davis Cup. There were five of the World Top 10, including Nadal and Novak Djokovic. “I think you have seen this week that the top players are here. And we thank them for their support and their outstanding performances on the court,” he said.
“Second, to increase the media and fan engagement. In the past, we’ve come to a final where two teams play each other and those two nations are following it, but now we have the world following the Davis Cup, the World Cup of Tennis,” said Haggerty.
“As for sponsors, I think you can see the prestigious sponsors that we have now as part of our program.
“And finally, the fourth thing, better for the nations, with more nations competing at World Group level for the chance to become the World Champions. At the beginning of 2019, 30 teams had the chance to lift the Davis Cup trophy.”
While adapting to the demands of the modern game – which translates to providing first-class accommodations, both on the off the court, for the teams and its players – one thing this year’s Davis Cup Finals reinforced was the expression of pride the players showed in carrying their flag and playing for their nation. And, as Haggerty suggested, “a strong Davis Cup is strong for the future of tennis.”
What a week! Over 133,000 people visited the Caja Mágica during the Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals to support their country. Thank you all, see you next year! 👋#DavisCupMadridFinals #byRakuten pic.twitter.com/sZ3yCtSS1n
— Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals (@DavisCupFinals) November 25, 2019
Meanwhile, Piqué was quick to point out that under Kosmos, the Davis Cup has grown from four sponsors to 11 plus more than 20 partners. And, to throw out more numbers, he said that there were 650 journalists representing 25 different countries and the competition had been followed in 121 different countries. Live attendance at the Davis Cup exceeded 130,000 spectators.
“I think that these are incredible numbers,” said Piqué. “You can see the impact in different countries through social media, through, like, media of all people that are following.”
Piqué acknowledged there were negative issues involving scheduling and technology. “It’s true that we have to solve different issues. The most important one, maybe, is in terms of the timing and the hours,” he said.
“We expect that some games will be finished late, but obviously 4 a.m. was too late. (The U.S.-Italy group tie last Wednesday evening, which started two hours late because of the late finish of the Great Britain-Netherlands day session tie scheduled for the same stadium, didn’t end until 4:04 a.m. local time Thursday.) That day all the games, they were very long. But we will have to be more creative in the future. I think this is not a big issue. It’s something we have to think how we do it.
“We had different problems in terms of logistics that I think it’s normal for a first year. It’s true that also in terms of technology, the app and the website, people wanted to follow the results and sometimes it didn’t work. This is because there were so many users connecting at the same time and we didn’t that and sometimes it didn’t work. This is something that for sure we’ll have to do better for next year.”
With criticisms noted, Piqué shifted his focus to the emotional intangibles of the Davis Cup. “When we started, we said: New year, same soul. I think that the best thing that we can keep from this year, the Davis Cup Finals, is the soul. How the players, they cried when they lose. The example of Serbia, when they came here and they lost in the last tiebreak, and the were in tears.
“Or, how they celebrate, how passion, either celebrations when Canada qualifies … after the tiebreak, the last tiebreak of the last game against Russia. And they qualified for the first time in a Davis Cup Final.”
Piqué reminded everyone that “these kind of emotions are just so unique and that we have to preserve them. So I’m very, very happy that this happened all this week. We are very excited to work very hard for next year, for 2020. And to organize an even bigger and better event.”
The Davis Cup Finals will return to Madrid next year and this year’s final four nations – champion Spain, finalist Canada, and semifinalists Great Britain and Russia, plus wild cards France and Serbia – will be among the 18 teams competing in the 2020 Davis Cup Finals.