ORLANDO, Fla. — The International Tennis Federation’s bid to radically revamp the Davis Cup competition was ratified on Thursday morning after months of debate and division over the proposal.
The changes received 71.43 percent of the votes at the federation’s annual general meeting, clearing the two-thirds majority required to pass.
While nearly every tennis stakeholder has indicated a belief that the 118-year-old Davis Cup needs to evolve, this vote offered a chance for a wholesale restart, creating a format that would be nearly unrecognizable compared to the current one.
In the current format, national teams play five best-of-five-sets matches in four weeks spread over a stretch of months at sites around the world. The new competition will condense the elite World Group to four rounds of three best-of-three matches in one week in November in a single neutral location.
Twelve participating countries will still get a chance to host one of the February preliminary rounds that are used to determine spots in the finals. The finals will encompass 18 teams, including 12 winners from the preliminary rounds, the previous year’s four semifinalists and two wild-card teams chosen before the qualifying round.
The I.T.F. said the finals would be held in Europe for the first two years, beginning in 2019. The finalists for hosting the event next year are Madrid and Lille, France.
The proposal, spearheaded by the I.T.F. president, David Haggerty, was backed by a $3 billion commitment over 25 years from Kosmos, a European investment group led by the Spanish soccer star Gerard Piqué. The Oracle founder Larry Ellison, who has invested heavily in tennis as the owner of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., has also pledged financial support.
Haggerty and other tennis officials have said they believed Davis Cup needed an overhaul because tennis’s biggest stars did not regularly participate and the event did not generate enough global interest and revenue.
When France won the Davis Cup title last November, it did so without having beaten a top 40 player in singles through the four rounds of the competition.
Haggerty, who will be up for re-election next year, admitted that he had “a lot on the line” and said his next step, “after the euphoria and relief” wore off, would be to find improvements for Fed Cup, the I.T.F.’s team competition for women.
Even with widespread desire for improvements, Grand Slam federations were split: France and the United States voted for it, while Australia and Britain voted against it. Those countries held the most power, with 12 votes each in the I.T.F.’s weighted system.
Tennis Australia said it was “extremely disappointed with the radical changes.”
“The I.T.F. now has a major responsibility to ensure the great heritage and prestige of the competition is somehow retained in this new version of Davis Cup,” the federation said in a statement.
Any further amendments to Davis Cup and Fed Cup regulations will most likely not have to wait for a vote by the full membership at a later annual meeting. Another vote on Thursday empowered the I.T.F.’s board of directors, made up of representatives from 14 federations, to make those changes.
Many countries did not make their final decisions on the new Davis Cup format until the days or hours before Thursday’s vote. The Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body for the sport in Britain, announced its opposition to the measure on Wednesday afternoon. That decision marked a split from the All England Club, the host of Wimbledon, which had voiced support for it.
Players’ opinions often differed from their federations’. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic supported the changes, but their federations did not. The French federation supported the change even as its players were the most outspoken against it.
“The Davis Cup died, and a part of the history of our sport flew away for a handful of dollars,” the French player Nicolas Mahut wrote on Twitter after the vote.
Some players, including Alexander Zverev of Germany and Lucas Pouille of France, have said they will not play Davis Cup under the new format.
The vote, like the debates and presentations before it, was held in secret at the annual meeting at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando. The breakdown of votes by country will not be published, but trends emerged through interviews with the leaders of various federations.
Federations in Africa and the Americas were poised to vote unanimously in favor of the measure.
Along with Australia, Europe anchored the opposition to the changes. Britain was joined in its dissent by Germany, the only country outside of the Grand Slam host nations that wields the maximum 12 votes. There was also dissent across Central and Southern Europe, with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia among those leaning against the measure.
Ivo Kaderka, the longtime president of the Czech Tennis Association, called the change “a huge risk to the future” and lamented the loss of a foothold for tennis in his country, a two-time Davis Cup champion that hosts no ATP tournaments and lacks sites that could stage a World Cup-style event.
“It’s terrible, but this is democracy; we didn’t win,” Kaderka said. “We are a little bit afraid, but the future will show us how it is, and who was right.”
Late decisions by Western European nations to support the I.T.F.’s proposal helped push it over the top, with Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain ultimately supporting the measure.
The divisions were often economic as well as geographic. Smaller federations, needing lifelines to develop talent, expressed eagerness for the infusion of money promised by the Kosmos deal, which will divide $25 million among national associations.
“Especially for small countries, it’s a good deal,” said Aleksandar Sekulovic, secretary of the Montenegrin Tennis Association. “Now we have $25 million more than we had before now. It’s three steps forward for the grass roots in the smaller countries.”
Cedric Babu, president of the Uganda Tennis Association, applauded the embracing of the business of sport.
“It gives us the opportunity to develop more players,” he said. “Because we get 10 times the amount we get now, we get to produce more players. For us, it’s an easy decision.”
Babu added: “Davis Cup, over the years, has been losing its momentum. There’s such big money in mainstream tennis that players were not really incentivized to play; they get all the credit from playing on the ATP Tour or at Slams.”
Others doubted that enriching the Davis Cup with a fund of $20 million for prizes would do enough to lure top players.
Attila Richter, the president of the Hungarian Tennis Federation, was among those leading resistance to the changes. In particular, he criticized the end-of-season timing of the November event, which will cut further into many players’ already short off-seasons.
“Just imagine a final next year without top-10 players,” Richter said. “It’s a possibility, and it’s actually a realistic possibility. Players are not for sale; they’re not prostitutes. They won’t just take any money and go.”
He added: “After an A.T.P. World Tour Finals, being nearly exhausted and dead, I don’t think many of them want to play five days in a week, with two matches for most, singles and doubles. I’m just worried it won’t look like it does on paper in reality.”
Haggerty, drawing inspiration from the city around him, said that the boldness and ambition would be rewarded.
“There’s risk in not doing anything, and I thought that that risk was far greater than the changes that we’re making,” he said. “It’s interesting that we’re here in Orlando, when you think of a crazy guy like Walt Disney having a dream and building something that people said wouldn’t happen.
“I in no way compare myself to Walt Disney, but I can learn something from that: You have to look to the future.”
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