Michael Pavitt

The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Finals are usually the full stop on the tennis season. But not this time.

The "season-ending" men’s tournament for the top eight players of 2019 concluded today, with attention now shifting to Madrid for an old competition in a new format.

Changes to the Davis Cup were approved at the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Annual General Meeting 16 months ago. Or to give them their full title, the "controversial reforms".

The controversy largely centred around the decision to replace the 37-year-old format of home and away matches with a single, season-ending event involving 18 men’s teams.

At times it has been hard to assess whether the opposition to the changes was due to the format or whether it was because some nations were supporting the similar ATP Cup event, which will debut at the start of 2020.

The Davis Cup finals itself will be able to do the talking this week, with organisers hopeful the event will be able to silence some of its doubters.

Among the concerns will be the atmosphere in the venue at La Caja Mágica.

It will be interesting to see how the finals can make up for the loss of the home crowds under the old format, with the often fervent local support providing a different vibe to a tennis competition to the usually polite and respectful crowds at other events.

The new look Davis Cup format will be scrutinised this week in Madrid ©Getty Images
The new look Davis Cup format will be scrutinised this week in Madrid ©Getty Images

Andy Murray was among those to highlight the atmosphere as a potential concern heading into the event, although the Briton has called for support for the tournament.

"I'm going to miss that but I love being around the team,” he said, according to the BBC. “I'm excited to see what the new format looks like and I hope the atmosphere is brilliant. That's my one concern."

I wonder whether organisers have looked towards events like the ATP World Tour Finals and the Laver Cup for inspiration in how they might be able to plug this particular gap.

Perhaps they have even looked beyond tennis itself with Barcelona and Spain footballer Gerard Pique, the founder of Davis Cup partner Kosmos Tennis, having spoken of creating a party atmosphere.

The Spaniard has said different artists will be featuring throughout the week.

"I want them to have the best week of their lives,” Pique said. “I want Davis Cup to be a party around tennis, not just tennis.

"We have a deal with Sony and there are going to be different artists performing there that will provide other entertainment which is going to help make Davis Cup unique. During that week fans will enjoy more than just tennis, and of course we want them to have a great time in Madrid.”

When reading these quotes I was immediately reminded of attending the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) Nations League Finals last year in Lille, which effectively is the equivalent competition to the Davis Cup Finals.

Rafael Nadal is among the top names due to compete ©Getty Images
Rafael Nadal is among the top names due to compete ©Getty Images

The FIVB at the event teamed up with Grammy award winning DJ duo NERVO, plugged in a speaker system and turned on smoke machine around the competitions.

The Davis Cup Finals are unlikely to be pumping out music after every point, like the volleyball, but it will be interesting to see how they might combine sport and the musical world.

One area where the Davis Cup Finals seems to have succeeded is in ensuring several of the sport’s biggest names will be in attendance for the competition.

World number one Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Murray are among those set to represent their nations in the coming week.

It definitely seems a step forward from the last couple of years under the previous format, when you were unsure whether the best players would play or skip one of their team’s fixtures, as they sought to fit the competition around a busy season.

Not all of the top players have bought into the changes, with Swiss star Roger Federer one of the notable absentees. Federer, however, has also withdrawn from participating at the ATP Cup in January.

The ITF in particular will hope the revamped Davis Cup can be given the thumbs up by top players and fans at the conclusion of this week’s event. It may help their cause next year, with ITF President David Haggerty telling me after his re-election in September that they would aim to hold discussions with the ATP over the future of their respective events.

"I think what we need to do is deliver a great Davis Cup, which we will do, and there will be the ATP Cup in January and I am sure they will do the best to deliver that,” Haggerty said.

"Afterwards is probably the best time to talk to each other about what we are doing, then decided what makes sense for tennis. We want to be open, collaborative and make sure we do the best we can for the sport."

Football star Gerard Pique has been heavily involved in the revamped Davis Cup Finals ©Getty Images
Football star Gerard Pique has been heavily involved in the revamped Davis Cup Finals ©Getty Images

Perhaps the Davis Cup has the advantage of having a 119-year history compared to the ATP Cup, although critics will suggest the reforms have effectively wiped traditions from the event.

I wonder how organisers might seek to incorporate the history of the tournament into this week’s finals in an effort to preserve some of the heritage.

One aspect is clear though, the ambitions for the Davis Cup seem to have been increased as a result of the changes and investment.

"I like to think big and our idea since the beginning is to put this competition where it deserves to be, and maybe to create an event longer than one week,” Pique told the Davis Cup website.

“We understand we have to start little by little. I don’t want to compare ourselves to any other tournament because I think we are unique.

"In five years’ time I want everyone, players and fans, to think 'Davis Cup is in November and I want to be there'".