Eight nationalities will meet on Monday at Caja Mágica in Madrid, where the men’s tennis season culminates with a renewed Davis Cup format devised by Gerard Pique, the Barcelona footballer.
The week-long Davis Cup finals, with a renewed World Cup-style football format, will be the biggest revolution ever experienced by a 119-year-old championship that is being funded by Barça Gerard Piqué’s investment firm Kosmos, worth $3 billion over 25 years.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has not had a smooth passage since it announced the radical renewal of the tournament, with some purists accusing the organization of selling the soul of the competition, which had nonetheless lost its luster over the years.
On the other hand, there is also the issue of the ATP Cup, seen as a rival competition, which will start in January.
As in any major sporting event, the key ingredient will be the quality of the entertainment and atmosphere.
Nineteen-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal will lead the Spanish team, while Novak Djokovic will play for Serbia, Andy Murray for the UK and Nick Kyrgios for the Australian team at this Davis Cup heavyweight crossover.
But there will also be notable absences. Roger Federer’s Switzerland failed to qualify, as well as Austria’s Dominic Thiem, world number five, while Germany will not have Alexander Zverev, who has refused to participate in the event.
Russian Daniil Medvedev stopped his activity this week to recover after a long season, while other big names like Canadian Milos Raonic are injured.
The format will involve 18 nations, including two guests, divided into six groups of three, in which the winners and two best runners-up will advance to the knockout phase.
Each group cross consists of two singles matches and one doubles match, winning the best of three sets with a tie-break.
The final will be played next Sunday.
In addition to La Caja Mágica’s main court, matches will also be played on two smaller courts so that the tight schedule can be completed in a week.
Critics of the new system cited the loss of the traditional Davis Cup atmosphere.
While Spain has the majority support of public opinion and the United Kingdom has sold 1,000 tickets, the prospect of matches taking place in front of empty seats will worry the organizers.
Murray, who won the Davis Cup for the United Kingdom in Ghent in 2015, pulled by deafening crowds, said that although he is intrigued by the new format, he is concerned that the Magic Box may lack the magic created by fans.
“I’m going to miss him, but I love being with the team and I’m excited to see what the new format looks like. I hope the atmosphere is brilliant,” he said. “That’s my only concern.”
Croatia will arrive as defending champions, having won last year’s final against France in Lille, and will face a tough task in Group B, where they will face Spain and Russia without the presence of their best player, Marin Cilic.
Despite some abdominal problems, Nadal is expected to play with Spain, although it is doubtful whether he will be able to resist up to five individual matches in six days.
The 33-year-old said fans should expect the unexpected.
“Of course it’s something special, something new, and when it’s something new, you have to be prepared for something unexpected,” he said. “Let’s see how things work.