The Davis Cup has arrived in Málaga, but its future is uncertain after a tumultuous year.


The final week of the busy tennis season kicked off on Tuesday afternoon in Málaga with the Davis Cup finals. The defending champions, Milos Raonic of Canada and Finland’s Patrick Kaukovalta, took to the court at the spacious Palacio de los Deportes to a warm reception from a large crowd for the first quarter-final match.

However, despite the optimistic outlook portrayed by those uplifting moments, the Davis Cup has experienced a tumultuous year. It has been four years since the event was restructured by Kosmos, a company co-founded by Gerard Piqué, and the International Tennis Federation (ITF). It is yet to be determined if this major annual team sporting competition can overcome its challenges.

In 2018, a majority of 72% of the ITF’s 213 member countries approved the proposed changes at its yearly meeting. As part of the 25-year agreement, Kosmos committed to investing $3 billion. Despite initial doubts within the sporting community, the deal has now failed.

Unfortunately, in January, Kosmos’s agreement with the ITF was cancelled with 21 years remaining. While overseeing the competition, Kosmos suffered substantial financial losses and struggled to fulfill payments to players. In an effort to rectify the situation, the organization tried to negotiate a lower annual fee with the ITF for organizing the Davis Cup, citing the fee as excessive. However, the contract ultimately ended in termination.

Since Kosmos violated the contract, both parties have taken legal action against each other. The ITF has recruited Tennium, a well-known company that manages tennis events, to help organize the event this year. The future outcome is uncertain.

The most significant annoyance has been caused by the other players. During their first match against France in the group stage, Stan Wawrinka and his team from Switzerland played at the AO Arena in Manchester with only a small audience of a few hundred people. Frustrated by the lack of attendance, Wawrinka even recorded a video on his phone and shared it on X (formerly known as Twitter) with the message: “Thank you, Gerard Piqué.”

Finland’s Otto Virtanen reacts during his Davis Cup quarter-final match against Canada’s Gabriel Diallo.

A short online argument ensued between the top players in their respective sports, and later Wawrinka criticized the Davis Cup as a “failure”. This view was also shared by former No. 1 player Lleyton Hewitt, who coaches the Australian team. He stated, “We need to remove the people in charge; we’ve seen the consequences. It was supposed to be a 25-year plan but it has turned into a four-year disaster.” He added, “I can continue saying this until I’m blue in the face, but they have truly messed it up.”

There are certainly significant and compelling reasons for reform, with the event now offering federations more money, the players a significant prize fund, and fewer Davis Cup dates on the calendar to entice top players. Both finalists from the ATP Finals, Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner, are competing in Málaga this week.

The Davis Cup has always been known for the emotions it stirs in both players and fans. The impressive display of a lengthy match spanning several days, with five sets and a lively environment filled with unpredictable turns, is greatly yearned for. In contrast, the current format – consisting of three matches, two singles and one doubles rubber – is brief and unsatisfactory.

The event has only taken place in Europe, primarily in Spain where Kosmos has strong ties. Other countries with a strong history in the competition, such as several in South America, have not been included.

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The unique aspect of tennis is one of its greatest strengths. Tennis enthusiasts easily connect with players from all over the globe and support their favorites regardless of their background. Nationality, religion, gender, and beliefs do not determine the level of support. This refreshing lack of emphasis on patriotism is evident.

The magic of the historic Davis Cup ties of old, held in stadiums where the ground shook and emotion overflowed from all corners, is that they were so epic they felt completely different to a regular tour match. There were moments during those battles when the stakes felt even greater. Over the past four years, that has usually not been the case.

However, despite its shortcomings and imperfections, the tournament is still capable of creating memorable instances. Following Raonic’s initial victory for Canada, Finland made a comeback and achieved a surprising upset despite their star player, Emil Ruusuvuori, being unable to play due to injury. Otto Virtanen’s 6-4, 7-5 win against Gabriel Diallo and the 7-5, 6-3 victory by Harri Heliovaara and Virtanen against Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil secured a 2-1 win for Finland.

A significant lesson from the world of tennis in recent times is that the sport remains entertaining, regardless of its format. This was evident during the Covid pandemic, when players continued to give their all even in the absence of spectators. It goes to show that as long as two players are fiercely competing on the court, the spirit of the game remains strong, even if it may not have the same sense of significance.