1 February

Football fever raises the stakes in tennis

The new format Davis Cup got another financial boost this week from an unlikely sponsor - the Spanish football league, La Liga. As the Qualifiers get underway today, there is much afoot in the world of men's team tennis

The Aussies have good reason to look cheerful. At the time of writing, they are 2-0 up against Bosnia/Herzegovina in the Davis Cup Qualifiers. Meanwhile the Indian team, playing at home and on grass in Calcutta, are 0-2 down against Italy.

But the drama is also happening off court.  

The Davis Cup already has a new World Cup style format and a $3 billion, football-sized deal with a company founded by Spanish defender Gerard Pique.  

Now it has upped the football  - and the Spanish connection - another notch. La Liga, Spain’s football league, has just announced it will be sponsoring the event for the next four years, linking brands, crossing sports and, it is hoped elevating what is already the premier international team event in men's tennis into an even bigger icon. The week long final, held from 18-24 November, will also take place place in the Spanish capital, Madrid, and Rafa Nadal will be playing.

La Liga will broadcast the event in 200 countries later this year, and will be sponsoring the Qualifiers in whch a total of 24 countries are competing for 12 places in the finals. Among those currently playing are Zverev and Kohlschreiber for Germany, Medvedev for Russia and Shapovalov for Canada. Those who make it through will join the 6 teams which have already qualified (Croatia, France, the United States, Spain, Argentina and Great Britain) for the 18-nation finale.

One of the reasons for changing the format was that in a crowded tennis calendar, the top players often didn’t take part. Last year, Andy Murray, who in 2015 helped GB win the event for the first time in 79 years, said:

“All players love playing Davis Cup. You can’t question that. You watch the players play, the passion and how much they get out of it. But obviously something wasn’t working because the top players were not playing.” 

Some blame the scheduling and the already tough demands on players. But if anything, the events are increasing. The Laver Cup, which pitches Team Europe against Team World will take place this year for the third time and next January, the ATP launches a 24-nation World Team Cup in Australia to kick start the men’s season.  

So close attention will be paid to who plays in the Davis Cup. Like the old format, the event includes singles and doubles matches, and there is little doubt that there is one player the British fans would love to see. Andy Murray may still be recovering from hip surgery but there is already speculation he could appear at Wimbledon partnering brother Jamie. With even longer to recover before the finals of the Davis Cup in November, is it too much to hope that Murray magic might be on display in Madrid?

For more information and updates on the action see Davis Cup: The World Cup of Tennis

Main image photographer: Scott Powick/ https://www.daviscup.com/en/photos.aspx