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FED CUP AND A BIGGER TENNIS UNIVERSE

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Matt Zemek

Does the sport of tennis need to be reformed? That’s a very broad question. A lot of people would say “yes” in response, but WHICH reforms are involved? That follow-up question would elicit far more fragmented replies from tennis fans, journalists, and other people inside the sport.

Tennis reforms can be likened to ATP surprises in halves of the draw which lack Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer: You know they exist and are part of the current landscape, but you don’t know specifically where they will come from. Reform itself is a prevalent notion in tennis, but as soon as the precise reform is mentioned (either the topic involved or the plan to address the topic), the level of popularity usually plummets. 

The bottom line: Lots of reforms in tennis might satisfy a vocal minority or a targeted constituency, but are likely to fail to win overwhelming support from a unified majority of people who care about the sport. Fixing one narrow or localized problem might feel good, but it might raise so many more questions than it answers.

Such is the attempt to reform the Davis Cup.

Ask women’s tennis professionals.

There has not been a specific proposal to reform the Fed Cup structure, but the proposed changes to Davis Cup elicited the very natural questions about the need for Fed Cup to be (or not be) reformed.

In Key Biscayne, Florida, Tennis With An Accent publisher and podcast host Saqib Ali caught up with Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza and got their input on Fed Cup. He received two different answers from the players at the Miami Open, but they both underscored one core point: Don’t assume that what’s good for Davis Cup is therefore also good for Fed Cup.

“I don’t know if it is the best format or not, but people should care about the women’s side, not just the men’s side,” Muguruza said. Her answer was not expansive, but it didn’t have to be — it easily sufficed as a pointed word of caution to anyone who might think that Davis Cup reforms should easily flow into the Fed Cup realm.

Kvitova was more detailed in her thoughts on the subject. Speaking to a group of reporters in Miami, she said:

“I like Fed Cup as it is — I would love to keep it like this — it’s tough for players to put Fed Cup and Davis Cup into their schedules, so I understand why the ITF is doing the Davis Cup as it is. I think the men’s side in the Davis Cup, from Friday to Sunday, it’s tougher for them to play the next week.” Kvitova explained that Davis Cup ties sometimes exist in proximity to best-of-five-set tournaments, specifically just after the Australian (first round) and U.S. Opens (semifinals). Since best-of-five tennis isn’t a concern for women’s tennis, the need to tweak the Fed Cup format simply doesn’t exist. 

 It was and is clear: Women’s tennis and men’s tennis occupy different pieces of terrain on this issue, regardless of whether one favors or opposes the new Davis Cup plan. Fed Cup stands on its own separate piece of ground and should not be lumped in with Davis Cup.

“I love playing Fed Cups at home,” Kvitova said, in explaining why a “World Cup of Tennis” at a neutral site isn’t something she would prefer. “It’s a little different.”

Yes, Fed Cup is different, as Muguruza and Kvitova both emphasized a few weeks ago in Key Biscayne. Whether anyone in tennis embraces this particular notion of reforming the event, the main idea WTA pros seem to stress the most is that Fed Cup’s differences should be honored and taken into account.

 The Tennis universe is bigger than one gender, one set of complications, and one recent reform plan. Recommendations on how to change international competitions should try to draw from — and earn — widespread support instead of appealing to one relatively narrow line of thought.

 

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