Fed Cup Format To Be Revamped
(June 27, 2019) THE QUEEN’S CLUB, LONDON – Fed Cup is to be revamped, the International Tennis Federation and the Women’s Tennis Association jointly announced this morning. The plan is somewhat similar to the Davis Cup reforms announced last year, and will see a finals week in which 12 countries will compete over six days for $18 million in prize money in a single host venue in April. From 2020 to 2022, the host will be the Hungarian city of Budapest. Qualifying rounds will continue to be home-and-away ties. The regional group events will also continue in their present round-robin format. Like the Davis Cup, the prize money will be split, with $12 million going to the players and $6 million going to the national federations. It is the first time Davis Cup and Fed Cup have had equal prize money, said Billie Jean King, who has been appointed as Global Ambassador for Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and who led the US team to win the first-ever Fed Cup in 1963, when 16 teams entered at their own expense because there was no prize money.
“Since 2012, nations and players have been asking to expand the competition at the elite level,” said ITF president David Haggerty, who called the change and the move to equal prize money “a seminal moment for tennis”. Neither King nor Haggerty noted, however, that the planned Davis Cup final format includes 18 teams, not 12.
The 12 spots in the final draw will be allocated as follows: two for the previous year’s finalists, currently Australia and France; one for the host nation; one wild card; and eight qualifiers. Sixteen teams will compete for the eight qualifying spots in two days in February in home-and-away ties in the traditional five-match format of singles, reverse singles, and doubles. Eight of the 16 spots in the qualifying round will be taken by the teams placed third to tenth in the previous year’s final round. The other eight will be the winners of play-off rounds of eight teams in each of two world groups, again played in traditional five-match, home-and-away format. Losers in that round will be relegated to regional groups, which also play in February, but in a round-robin format. There will be three regional groups competing to produce eight winners to participate in the play-offs: Asia/Oeania will compete for two pots; Europe/Africa will compete for four; and the Americas will compete for two.
The format for the final week will see the 12 teams divided into four groups of three, who will play each other in a round-robin held over four days to produce the four semifinalists, who will play each other in a knock-out round to make the final. The winning semifinalists will be determined by matches won; if there is a tie it will be broken by the percentage of sets won, then the percentage of games.
So that the necessary matches can all be played in one week, ties in the final will be played in a shortened format of three matches: two singles and one doubles.
The choice of April for finals week is a significant departure from the Davis Cup plan. Both the timing and the location, Haggerty explained, were chosen to fit into the geographic flow the players normally follow. A significant goal was also to shorten the yearly schedule by a week; the Davis Cup final will be played in November after the ATP world finals.
At its announcement, Davis Cup reform was highly contentious among the players, in part because of the scheduling. Haggerty said that today’s announcements had been informed by the Davis Cup discussions. However, the new Davis Cup format has yet to be thoroughly tested, since this is the first year it will be played.
Until 1995, Fed Cup, then called the Federation Cup, was played in a single week in one city. By then, over 70 nations were competing for the trophy, and the format was changed to the present home-and-away regional and world group matches because holding the entire event in a single week was becoming too big and expensive for the host nations. In a sense, therefore, the move to a single finals week is a return to the competition’s roots.
However, the presentation didn’t mention that. Instead, the idea seems to be that, as King put it, “World cups help elevate the sport.” With her background in the sport, as she looks around the world she sees that “Events are more mega, more focused, exactly what this is going to do.” And, she added, in a suggestion that players won’t want to miss it, “If you don’t play Fed Cup you don’t qualify for the Olympics.” As other women’s sports, particularly team sports, are beginning to take off, she believes that “This is how we stay a leader.”
Many questions remain. Will fans travel to Hungary for a week in April? Haggerty believes they will because they do for football. Is a focus on a mega event that requires fans to travel from all over the world a sustainable idea at a time when there is an increasing focus on limiting climate change? Most important, will the players themselves accept the new format? None were present: they were practicing at Wimbledon or in Roehampton playing qualifying, or competing at Eastbourne. Just two days ago, Simona Halep told Reuters she would boycott Fed Cup if the home-and-away format changes, and that she has not been asked her opinion of the plan. Given these questions, it’s surprising the ITF didn’t wait to see how the first year of the reformed Davis Cup played out before proceeding.