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The Pique Cup begins its irony-filled quest to change tennis

Matt Zemek

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Geoff Burke -- USA TODAY Sports

Technically, this event is still the Davis Cup, but we know it isn’t “Davis Cup” as we have come to appreciate it over the years. This is why I will refer to an event by its informal name, not its official name, when the informal name more accurately conveys the reality of an event’s identity.

So it is with the “Pique Cup” in place of “Davis Cup.” Dwight Filley Davis would very likely approve.

With that brief preamble over, let’s dive into this new world of tennis created by the Pique Cup over the weekend.

If you were live-scoring or streaming any of the ties, you noticed how quickly this first weekend flowed by. It wasn’t just the fact that there was no play on Sunday, meaning that large numbers of global sports fans had no Pique Cup tennis to watch on the day of the week when the biggest number of people are off work. The short weekend also existed in the form of most ties being decided by late afternoon in Europe, midday in the Eastern time zone of the United States, mid-morning in the Pacific time zone of the U.S.

Most of the 12 play-in ties, leading to the Pique Cup Finals in late November in Madrid, had concluded by 6 p.m. Paris time, noon in New York, 9 a.m. in Los Angeles. This was all very tidy.

Don’t think that television executives — contemplating the end of the Big 3 era, which will likely happen at some point in the 2020s (unless Novak Djokovic plays at age 43) — weren’t paying attention.

One of the central questions surrounding the Pique Cup, as one of a number of new “Cup” events sprouting up in global professional tennis, is if the truncated format — best of three sets and only two days for a play-in tie, followed by the one-week finals at La Caja Magica in Madrid — will hit the sweet spot for television. Being able to more easily depend on confined lengths for broadcast windows, AND being able to allocate less overall time for broadcasts, could give TV networks the ability to pay far less in rights fees than they have done over the past 15 years in the Big 3 era.

Given that viewing habits are constantly changing — with more people using streaming or hand-held devices to watch sports than before, and many Americans cutting the cord on cable television — broadcast outlets know they need to achieve cost savings wherever they can reasonably find them. Tennis’s pursuit of shorter matches and more condensed tournaments is a big part of this TV-oriented drama.

This first weekend didn’t change many — if any — minds. It was and is a mere warm-up act for the real thing, the one-week party in Madrid which will truly represent the main showcase of the Pique Cup’s vision for tennis.

One very big irony is attached to the rapidity with which this preliminary-round weekend ran its course: The speed of this weekend doesn’t have to make anyone enjoy the death (or at least the deep coma) of Davis Cup, but it can’t let people make definitive judgments about Pique Cup.

Yes, you very likely hate Pique Cup. I hate it myself — I won’t make any secret of that. However: This weekend was never the centerpiece of the event, the foundation upon which this tournament’s reputation would either grow or collapse. The November week in Madrid is the defining week for this tournament, and we will have to wait and see how that week unfolds.

Yes, “quickness” is a turn-off for those of us who enjoy five-set Davis Cup matches played within the context of three-day weekend ties. Yet, the overabundance of quickness in the Pique Cup setup doesn’t mean we should be supremely quick to judge this tournament. It has barely begun, and unless Madrid proves to be a total, flaming disaster, it deserves to have a few years on trial so that players have a chance to get used to it.

You can loathe Pique Cup and yet also realize that since Davis Cup has been placed into a deep coma, we might as well see what this new creature is made of. There will be at least two years of it, anyway, so we are stuck with it to a degree. That is not a satisfying or sexy reality, but let’s see what the next three or four years bring.

Let the soap opera play out. Let’s see if Kosmos can demonstrate accountability and responsibility. Let’s see if players such as Felix Auger-Aliassime — who clinched Canada’s place in the first Pique Cup Finals on Saturday in a victorious 3-2 tie against Slovakia — embrace the event. (Remember: The players are supposed to matter here. If they like the event more than we do, that’s something we have to accept.)

The Pique Cup views the increased speed of a tennis weekend as a feature, not a bug. Very well, then: We who evaluate the Pique Cup won’t rush to conclusions. If we did, we would be overvaluing speed ourselves, and feeding into the short-attention-span mindset Pique Cup seems to value.

Let’s notice the irony of the Pique Cup… and not succumb to it.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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