Gerard Pique sat unperturbed by the expectedly hostile reception at last May’s Madrid Masters. The thick-skinned Barcelona superstar and a vocal supporter of Catalan independence had lined up for enough Clasicos at city’s Bernabeu stadium to be rattled by jeering locals. More importantly, during the event, Pique was getting the support that mattered; from the top players and the sport’s governing body.
Andy Murray called Pique’s knockout finale proposal a “really exciting idea.” “If it comes off, I think it would be a very, very good thing for tennis,” Murray, who led Great Britain to their first Davis Cup title for 79 years in 2015, told The Independent last year. “We’ve exchanged messages. I think there’s still a lot of things that need to be worked out before it potentially happens, but I think it would be a very good thing for tennis.”
Compatriot Rafael Nadal then said, “Pique is part of a group that wants to create a World Cup that would be a great and very interesting tournament to compete in,” while Novak Djokovic added, “To see one of the football greats coming to the tennis world and trying to support it personally, but also in some structural business way, can only bring positives to our sport. We did talk several times.”
Murray, Nadal and Djokovic have long been outspoken critics of the current Davis Cup format and the scheduling problem it causes; the kind of disenchanted stars Pique hopes to attract through a bevy of sponsors and big prize money.
Pique certainly has the resume to back him up. The 31-year-old, who took a course in ‘The business of Entertainment, Media and Sports’ at the Harvard University, has shown the business acumen to match his skills as one of football’s top defenders.
His brand Kerad Games, employs about 30 programmers, and has a game called Golden Manager on both the iOS and Android platforms. In 2016, he founded an eSports company called eFootball.Pro, which launched an international league this week with Konami, creators of the popular Pro Evolution Soccer video game series. He also released an iMessage App called ‘Daybook’ with a Chicago entrepreneur.
Back at Camp Nou, Pique was instrumental in Barcelona bagging the sponsorship deal with Japanese company Rakuten, who replaced Qatar Airlines in a deal worth at least 55 million euros a year. Rakuten’s chairman Hiroshi Mikitani, in turn backed Pique as he launched Kosmos — the investment group which entered in the $3 billion over 25 years partnership with Davis Cup on Monday.
The proposal has been termed as “the end of Davis Cup as we know it” and “good for the bankers, rubbish for the fans” by social media users who would much rather cheer for their players at a home tie than attend a one-week, end-of-season event in a city of ITF’s choosing.
“I always found dangerous the connection of tennis with football people the 2 sports have nothing in common, mainly when we talk about principles, ethics, morals. If this aberrant idea goes forward you should change the name (sic),” read one of the several furious replies to Pique’s tweet announcing the deal.
ITF president David Haggerty, however, has given a thumbs up. And apparently, so have the players. “He has had conversations with players, and the players council. The players are very supportive of this idea,” said Haggerty on Monday.
Everyone else is just noise to Pique.
PROPOSED WORLD CUP OF TENNIS FORMAT
18 teams, seven days and prize pool of $20 million
For the past few years, the ITF has been looking to make changes to the Davis Cup format to make the competition more attractive to star players. These are some of drastic changes they’re contemplating.
– Instead of the regular knockout ties spread over the year, the 16 World Group teams will be joined by two more teams to compete in a Round Robin stage, with all matches being held at a single venue over a week in November. This will also replace the standard ‘home-away’ ties. Following the group stage, eight will qualify for the quarterfinals.
– Each tie will be conducted in a single day, and includes two singles and one doubles rubber with each being best-of-three-set matches.
– The World Group teams that fail to qualify for the quarterfinals will compete in a playoff against teams coming up from the Zonal Groups.
– Zonal Group 1 and 2 matches will continue to be held across three weeks in the season.
Who is fuelling the changes?
– The changes were unanimously endorsed by the ITF Board of Directors, but will be up for voting in August.
– Barcelona defender Gerard Pique’s investment company Kosmos, backed by Tokyo-based E-commerce company Rakuten, is pumping in $3 billion over 25 years.
– Murray, Nadal and Djokovic have been supporting the changes .
The current format
– There are 16 teams in the World Group that compete in a knockout format.
– Each tie is a three-day affair of four singles rubbers with a doubles match.
– In the Zonal Groups, the ITF had introduced, on an experimental basis, two-day ties with each of the five rubbers being played in a best-of-three set format.
– The number of members in the squad for the Zonals has also been increased from four to five.
– Ties are held on a home-away basis, with the host association deciding the venue.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines