One of the most prestigious championships in men’s tennis, the Davis Cup 2018, reaches its climax this week, as France meets Croatia in the final at Pierre Mauroy Stadium, in Lille, from 23rd to 25th November. Organised by the International Tennis Federation, the event has taken place annually since 1900.
This year’s tournament began its group stages in February, with 132 nations entering the early rounds – the leading players from each country made up each team. Initially, each group was split into round-robin pools, with play-offs deciding who would be promoted to the next stage – so, the tennis equivalent of the World Cup.
The 16 best nations progressed to the World Group, which saw Britain knocked out in the semi-finals in September. France will be hoping to retain their title, which they won after beating Belgium in the 2017 Davis Cup final. Previously, Croatia won the Davis Cup in 2005 and was runner-up in 2016.
Lucas Pouille will lead the French team in the final. He is the highest-ranked player among his team-mates, who are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nicolas Mahut, Jeremy Chardy and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The team was picked by its captain, Yannick Noah. Pouille won a decisive point against Belgium in last year’s Davis Cup final to assure France’s title.
Noah, the former French Open champion, steered France to victory in the Davis Cup in 1991, 1996, and 2017. He is planning to step down following this year’s final and says he’s very excited at the prospect of hopefully going out on a high.
The Croatian team’s highest-ranking player is 30-year-old Marin Čilić, who is number six in the men’s singles ATP rankings. His team-mates are Borna Ćorić, Franko Škugor, Mate Pavić and Ivan Dodig. On paper, the Croatian team is the favourite to win, thanks to the high ATP rankings of Čilić and Ćorić, who’s ranked number 12.
Croatia’s path to the final saw Ćorić beat the United States’ Frances Tiafoe in a gruelling match that lasted more than four hours to secure a 3-2 victory in the semi-final.
The 2018 final is taking place on the clay courts of Pierre Mauroy Stadium, which has a retractable roof, so the weather won’t be an issue should it rain.
The first Davis Cup in 1900 was contested by America and Britain in Boston. America won, after racing to a 3-0 unattainable lead. The idea was conceived by members of Harvard University’s tennis team, who realised the fervour and patriotism that such an international tournament would spark.
One of the players, Dwight Davis, designed the format and bought the trophy out of his own money. It became known as the Davis Cup in honour of its founder. The tournament expanded in 1905 to include Austria, Belgium, France and a combined team of players from Australia and New Zealand, who competed under the name Australasia until 1914.
Over the years, the tournament went from strength to strength and by 1969, 50 nations were competing. In 1972, the format received a major shake-up, which meant the reigning champion must play in every round – and didn’t receive a bye directly to the finals. Featuring the 16-team World Group, the current format made its debut in 1981.
This will be the final Davis Cup in its current format after controversial changes to the championship were approved by the ITF in August at its annual general meeting.
Sponsor Kosmos Investment Group pledged a $3 billion sponsorship deal over the next 25 years. This will see the prize money for next year’s event rocket to a total of $10 million, with the four-player winning team receiving $2.4 million. The other finalist will receive $1.75 million. Every team that plays in the groups stage will receive $600,000 each.
Early indications are that the money won’t be split equally between each player in the team. Every player will be required to sign an individual agreement and analysts believe their winnings will depend on their world ranking and how many Davis Cup individual match wins they have had.
It’s the championship’s most radical overhaul in its 118-year history and has proved controversial. The changes will effectively create a Grand Slam, with the matches stretched across the whole year. They will be played all over the world, climaxing with an 18-nation event, which will be played at one neutral venue.
The changes have sparked criticism among some of the greatest tennis players of all time. Former Australian Davis Cup captains and players Lleyton Hewitt, John Newcombe and Rod Laver have united to condemn the tournament’s revamp.
Newcombe, who won the Davis Cup five times, said it was the “death of the Davis Cup as we know it”, while Hewitt accused the changes as being a “money grab” which didn’t consider the tournament’s long history.
In another twist to the format, the ITF announced that two teams (Britain and Argentina) would receive a wild card next year, meaning that they would go straight into the new-format 2019 Davis Cup Finals in November. Neither team will compete in the qualifying round in February next year.
They will be among the 18 teams playing in the final, alongside the four 2018 semi-finalists (Croatia, France, Spain and the United States) and the 12 winning teams from the February group stages. The final will be held in Lille or Madrid from 18th to 24th November.
In the final, we will see the 18 teams split into six groups of three teams each. The winning team from each group will progress to the knockout stages, along with the two highest-scoring runners-up. The ties will consist of two singles matches and one doubles match, all of which will have a best-of-three tie-break set.