Fed Cup: Behind the smiles, empty seats
Fed Cup needs new format
As far as 40th birthday celebrations go, it wasn’t great. The tournament atmosphere the Fed Cup once generated has vanished and top stars are staying away. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has tinkered too much with one of tennis’ great team competitions, writes James Buddell.
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Once upon a time, the Federation Cup was great.
It had a tournament atmosphere as every nation converged together at one venue, on one continent for a week of competition and patriotic fervour, contesting three rubber matches.
But then the ITF started to change things believing they were doing the competition a favour.
DO LIKE DWIGHT?
In 1995, the competition was jazzed up with a new name: “Fed Cup”. But 32 years of tradition was cast aside.
Suddenly the format wasn't good enough, out went the one-week tournament only to be replaced by the home-and-away success achieved by the Davis Cup.
Not a bad idea: at last you could play for your country, in your country.
But then three rubber ties were changed to five, with the doubles - so crucial in Dwight Davis' original vision – being relegated to the graveyard slot: the fifth and often meaningless rubber.
When Australia and the United States seemed to contest every Challenge Round final for “Dwight's little pot” from 1946 right up until 1967, the structure may have been questioned, but never the format.
TOP PLAYERS MISSING IN ACTION
Sadly, as France claimed their second Fed Cup title in Moscow on Sunday, images were screened worldwide of empty seats, little atmosphere, and a stark truth.
The world's top players didn't feel inspired enough to play, after a long season chasing ranking points. No Venus, Serena, Kim, Justine or Lindsay… what a shame! But do you blame them?
Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova must have been in despair when they browsed the entry lists for the four nations contesting the finals week.
Credit to the Russian hosts, they did make the most of the opportunity. But that doesn't make up for the timing on the calendar - ten days after the close of the season - and the unilateral fashion in which the ITF chose Moscow as a venue.
Many commentators still pine for a return to the days of a seven-day jamboree when minnows were able to rub shoulders with the minnows.
But sadly this is unlikely to happen. The ITF have tinkered too much.
Beginning in 2005, the Fed Cup will revert to the Davis Cup format, but it could take years for tradition to build anew.
And that's a lesson to mull over later this week when the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne will be packed to the rafters, as Australia take on Spain in the Davis Cup final.