For the losers now will be later to win. For the times they are a’changin.
Is it something inherent in human nature that resists change?
It’s more than just the old truism – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. In the end, even the most radical among us turn stagnant. It’s the inescapable ending of every reformist government that they eventually get caught in their own myths and traditions.
So much more so in tennis.
Perhaps because it’s a sport that comes with so much prestige and romanticism. The conservatism in tennis sometimes play out in a quaint way – Roger’s jacket and Wimbledon’s middle Sunday are reminders of a bygone era that would never entirely be ‘bygone’.
Other times, a sport that resists change means that certain parts of its heritage become the dust-covered books sitting in the back section of a library: mostly unloved … except by the proud nerds or dedicated researcher.
But even the most ardent defenders of the Davis Cup cannot deny that the tournament has lost its prestige. Other than the dedicated tennis followers, not many know or understand the tournament. Even fewer in my generation appreciates its history and past glories.
And why would they? Even as a dedicated fan of the sport, the Davis (and Fed) Cup comes onto my radar for one weekend per every 3 or 4 months, before going away quietly into the good night. I might spare a smile or two at the happy snaps of team members united for a group victory, but no more. It matters not. It inspires none.
Evidently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. This fascinating article with the Times interviews former SEO Chairman Butch Buchholz about a pet project that he’s been working on – a revamp of the Davis and Fed Cups.
Buchholz is proposing a combined biannual event, held in one location, over 10 days and with 32 teams.
“We don’t want to run the Davis Cup, it is the ITF’s asset but unless something changes soon, we fear it will simply become a junior Davis Cup. The TV situation isn’t working, it ought to be covered worldwide and it’s not. We had a dinner here a month or so ago with 200 tennis people and not one of them could raise their hand and say who won the Davis Cup last year and who America’s first opponents were. We have to open the Davis Cup up to the world.”
“There’s a debate out there. There are many issues to sort out, the calendar for one, the potential venues, the preliminary rounds, how it would actualy work. But the ITF cannot help but acknowledge that people are thinking about it and talking about it. What happened to Davis Cup? It used to be as big if not bigger than the grand slams. Remember Frank Shields in 1931, the USTA asked him to default the Wimbledon final because he was injured and they feared he might not be fit to play Davis Cup against Britain two weeks later. Can you imagine that ever happening now?
No we can’t. But the ITF can – evidently – since they’ve comprehensively rejected the proposals. These treacherous former players and tournament organisers! Trying to wrestle control away from the ITF, OH WAIT –
“We are not working against the ITF, we went to work with them,” Buchholz says. “We aren’t going in there saying ‘we have a better idea than yours’ because they won’t buy that but we believe they must evaluate whether the Davis Cup in its present format is working and whether they are really making the most of their prime asset?
“We have to sit with the ITF and work this out. Let’s make this better for tennis, let us have tennis benefit. The ITF uses the money is makes from the Davis Cup as a means of defending the status quo but what if we came up with a business plan, with the venues sorted, the calendar sorted and the players sorted, that doubled that money?
Now you’re talking. So it could be like the Soccer World Cup, right? But wait – it’s better. It’s like the Soccer World Cup with girls. Hurrah!
“I think what you will see, if we do the combined event is that more countries will really start to pay attention to the development of both their men and their women players. It may take ten years, 15 years but countries who think they are going to be able to compete for this will start putting more into it.”
But surely, tennis isn’t ready for such a great change? What if it flops? What if the TV networks don’t cover it? What if no one gives a damn? What if the sky falls down?
“It reminds me of the position in 1967 when Herman David, the Wimbledon chairman said to the professional players like Rod Laver and Lew Hoad that they could play the championships the following year, even though the ITF fought against it tooth and nail. They wanted it to remain an amateur preserve. Wimbledon was a huge success in 1968, and the Open Era was with us. Tennis never looked back.”
No kidding. What are your thoughts on this?
Should the Davis Cup and Fed Cup soldier on and celebrate their traditions? Or do you think it’s time for a visionary to reform the tournament format so that it’s consistent with the changing nature of the media and tennis season?
If it was up to me, it’d be a no-brainer – let’s put on some Bob Dylan.