The Week in Malaga
Even with hosts, Spain, failing to qualify, the atmosphere in Malaga for the Davis cup Finals was incredible.
Fans from all over Europe travelled to the Andalusian region and were in full voice for their respective nations – causing even Lleyton Hewitt to admit that Australia’s encounter with Finland “did feel like an away tie”.
It’s very rare in tennis to see large levels of conflicting support within the same arena, but a neutral venue offers this advantage, to have both sets of fans imposing themselves on a match.
However, there is still significant room for improvement and with the ITF currently reviewing the format for 2025, I believe one of two decisions must be made.
1) Go all in on the current format of a neutral venue for the ‘Finals’ – and continue to build on positive signs.
2) Or revert back to home-and-away ties right through to and including the Final.
A week ago, I would have been all for the latter – as I’m sure most still are – but having seen the passionate support for various nations in Malaga, I can definitely see the benefits.
No doubt, there is little better than a tennis atmosphere from a hostile home crowd – going from eery silence to a unified roar and the drums and horns of the Davis Cup.
But neutral venues can still have that – and there’s something equally thrilling about coming together with fellow natives to support your country on foreign soil.
WHY IT CAN WORK:
Firstly, a larger event with eight nations means greater coverage, exposure, and ultimately more financial benefit.
The past week drew major attention due to the storylines prior to the final – firstly Finland knocking over the defending champions Canada to break new ground, before Jannik Sinner came from three match points down to defeat Novak Djokovic and rescue Italy in the semi-final.
This is what made global headlines – and raised broader awareness about Sunday’s final than if it had been held on its own in either Australia or Italy.
It’s very easy to think of Australia in a bubble, where a home Davis Cup final would undoubtedly generate greater interest within the nation – but a neutral week-long event with eight competing countries guarantees greater interest on a worldwide scale.
While the Italian fans in Malaga showcased this, so too did those back home, welcoming Jannik Sinner to Milan with stadium-wide chants after delivering Italy the 2023 title.
And in reality, bringing one nation to Australia for a singular tie over one weekend simply won’t create this level of widespread intrigue.
But if given the chance to host eight nations – including the Aussies – for a two-week Davis Cup Finals event, the country that unites for the Australian Open would definitely get behind it.
WHAT NEEDS FIXING?
1. We still need Home-and-Away ties in the lead up – and only one wildcard to the host nation.
The major issue with this format is that higher ranked nations are left with few or no home ties, preventing local fans from supporting their Davis Cup team.
After reaching the 2023 final, the Aussies have received a wildcard to the 2024 group stage, meaning they skip qualifying and will go at least three years without a tie on home soil.
To prevent this, the current group stage and wildcard system must be removed (only the host nation should receive one) – and all qualification for the season ending finale must be played as home-and-away ties, to determine the other seven finalists.
This could then mean that ‘Round of 14’, ‘Round of 28’ and ‘Round of 56’ ties could be played under the home-and-away format – and to a strong standard, with more than thirty nations now having a top-100 ranked singles player.
2. Nations need a guarantee of multiple matches and best of five sets for semi-finals and the final.
This week in Malaga, countries knocked out in the quarterfinals played just one tie – and for the event to be successful, with an expectation of fans travelling, this can’t be the case.
A minimum of three matches – in the form of two, four-team groups – would incentivise more supporters to travel and traditional best-of-five sets matches must be brought back for the semis and final.
3. Different cities every year.
Finally, for this structure to work, the event must be held in different countries and continents – and allow nations to bid for the rights to host.
Spain will host the ‘Finals’ for a fifth straight year in 2024, and Novak Djokovic was one of many to suggest that it must be shared around.
“[The event] has to travel. This is a competition that is played globally. I feel like the Davis Cup Finals – if you're going to keep it at Final 8 – should travel every year.”
There were definitely signs in Malaga to suggest this this format can work – and if successfully finetuned, it could just become as significant as any fortnight on the calendar.