'Sad day for tennis': Australia's fury over 'crazy' Davis Cup changes

Tennis Australia and current and former players have slammed an approved revamp of the 118-year-old Davis Cup, spearheaded by footballers and a billionaire.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has voted to turn the sport’s most famous and oldest international men’s team tournament into an 18-team ‘World Cup’ event at their annual general meeting in Florida on Thursday.

The vote was far from unanimous though, with the plans only passed by a 71.43 per cent majority by the 210 member nations and criticism coming from some players and federations.

Problems could still lie ahead for the ITF with the ATP also intending to stage their own 24-team World Team Cup in Australia from January of 2020, less than two months after the Davis Cup final in November.

Australian’s team (L to R) Todd Woodbridge, Mark Philippoussis, captain John Fitzgerald, Lleyton Hewitt and Wayne Arthurs hold the Davis Cup, after winning against Spain at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, 30 November 2003. AFP PHOTO/ Christophe SIMON (Photo credit should read CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images)

Tennis Australia is one of several federations, including Germany and England, who voted against the plans.

“This proposal takes away too much of what makes the Davis Cup special and unique,” Tennis Australia, who are backing the ATP’s venture, said in a statement.

“Reform is vital for the competition but this proposal takes away too much of what makes the Davis Cup unique and special, especially the home and away aspect which has brought elite tennis to so many fans around the world.

John Millman and Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt during day one of the World Group semi final at Palais 12 on September 15, 2017 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

“The ITF now has a major responsibility to ensure the great heritage and prestige of the competition is somehow retained in this new version of Davis Cup.”

The first edition of the new event, which has the backing of an investment group Kosmos led by Spanish international footballer Gerard Pique, will be held in Madrid or Lille from November 18-24, 2019 with the inaugural host city to be announced in the coming weeks.

Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona looks on dejected after missing a chance to score against Malaga CF at Camp Nou on February 21, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

The new event will feature matches played over the best-of-three sets, culminating in a week-long tournament to determine the world champions.

Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash described it in a tweet as “a sad day for men’s tennis” and said it would struggle to attract players.

“Sad day for men’s tennis #ITF have voted for new format of #DavisCup (its no longer Davis Cup) Fooling themselves if they think top players will play a 18 team comp over 1 week at the end of the year????” he wrote.

Australian professional John Millman tweeted directly to the official Davis Cup account, asking them when the players’ vote on the changed format would be.

“How do you think a tennis player, backed by a billionaire, would fare wanting to change the whole format of football’s 63 year old Champions League competition? Including no home and away fixtures, WC teams, etc. It’s crazy,” the world No.53 later tweeted.

The ITF say that their 25-year agreement with Kosmos represents a total investment of $US3 billion ($A4.1 billion) into tennis which will transform the global development of the sport.

The competing nations’ income and a new player prize fund of $US20 million, they add, will transform prize money levels.