The modern Davis Cup format has been an ongoing debate since it was first announced and implemented by the ITF, in conjunction with Gerard Pique and the Kosmos Investment Group.
Foremost, the event has eliminated home-and-away ties with a group of teams now converging in one city – as was the case this week in Manchester.
From day one of the event, crowds and atmosphere were an apparent issue – and Stan Wawrinka was the first to criticize the attendance for Switzerland’s opening tie against France.
Less than a thousand fans entered the 15,000 capacity AO Arena on Tuesday, where Wawrinka and Frenchman Ugo Humbert faced off – both currently ranked inside the ATP top 40.
“I’ve played [ATP] Challenger [events] this year and there was way more people and a better atmosphere than when we played against France,” Wawrinka told the media.
The three-time major champion further suggested that there were “zero people watching” and “at that moment [he] didn’t want to play the Davis Cup.”
Andy Murray – who competed in singles action for Great Britain – was equally critical of the format while suggesting that the marketing could at least be improved to help boost crowds for neutral ties.
“All of the promotion around this event (in Manchester) is of the British players and the British team, when you have other great players competing like ‘Stan’. I don’t know if people are even aware that he’s playing”, Murray said in his press-conference.
“It is a shame when France and Australia – two of the biggest tennis nations that love the Davis Cup – are playing in front of what feels like an empty stadium.”
Both Murray and Wawrinka further discussed the lack of player voice in the decision making of the current format.
“I was on the ATP player council when the initial discussions were had about this format and not one person on the council supported it,” Murray said.
“We told that to David Haggerty (ITF President at the time) and were told it would be taken into consideration, and then literally two days later, it was announced that they were changing the format.”
Wawrinka shared the same view, stating that the ITF and the Davis Cup “absolutely [do] not” listen to the players.
“They don’t ask us what we think. We [players] shouldn’t be deciding, but we should give advice of what we believe can be good for the sport, the fans, and the players”, Wawrinka said.
“You have to try new things for sure, but it’s been quite the clear disaster.”
The Swiss was not the only man using the ‘disaster’ term to describe the new format, with Lleyton Hewitt matching the description in his assessment of the event.
“This was meant to be a 25-year thing and it’s turned into a four-year disaster”, Hewitt told the media.
The former world number one was understandably most critical of ties played in neutral locations, as two of Australia’s were this week.
“There’s something special about playing home and away.”
“Some of my greatest memories are playing in front of packed Australian crowds who are all going for you.”
“But for team bonding, playing in places like Brazil, Spain…with 15,000 people barracking against you, you find out how tough you really are.”
“They’ve really screwed it up”, Hewitt concluded.
Having experienced the week live in Manchester, the beauty of the Davis Cup was still on display – as the home crowd willed Jack Draper and Dan Evans to tight wins over Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alex de Minaur.
But conversely, there was an eerie feeling inside the AO Arena when Great Britain didn’t play, with a few hundred people in attendance for some of the world’s best players.
Not that the format needs any further testing, but the last eight nations are set to descend on Malaga for the 2023 Finals and hosts Spain have not qualified.
This was always a possibility under the format, but the ITF may very well may need to keep “paying” for an atmosphere.