By Matt Smith
DUBAI (Reuters) - The Davis Cup will remain an annual tournament despite persistent complaints from some players that it over-burdens an already-crowded schedule, the head of the sport’s governing body said on Tuesday.
Roger Federer was roared on by a capacity 18,000 crowd on Sunday as he helped Switzerland beat Italy to reach the final of the top team event in men’s tennis for the first time since 1992.
The Swiss will play France, who trounced defending champions Czech Republic, in November.
Yet earlier this year, Czech double Davis Cup champion Tomas Berdych bemoaned the event’s detrimental effect on his individual career and called for it be a biennial event, like golf’s Ryder Cup.
Other top players have suggested replacing it altogether.
"We don’t agree with this (a biennial event) because the calendar of tennis is annual - if you take something away, it’s very difficult the year after," Francesco Ricci Bitti, President of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), told a news conference in Dubai.
He said the ITF would insist on two other principles for the Cup - that ties be played on a home and away basis and for national associations to select their players to compete.
Bitti conceded some leading players were suffering from fatigue but said their absence was only highlighted when it was the Davis Cup, rather than singles or doubles tournaments.
END OF AN ERA?
Men’s tennis has enjoyed a gilded decade, thanks to the dominance of a supremely gifted quartet – Federer, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray.
They helped re-establish the sport’s popularity, which had waned under the monotonous barrage of brutal servers such as Goran Ivanisevic and Andy Roddick.
But this month’s U.S. Open final, won by Croatia’s Marin Cilic, was the first Grand Slam singles final since 2005 not to feature any of the four European maestros and some experts fear their fading dominance could again lead to waning interest from fans and sponsors.
"It’s a period of transition,” said Bitti. "There are still the old heroes – Serena (Williams), Federer, Djokovic, Nadal, and also new guys and girls coming in."
Cilic triumphed at Flushing Meadows having returned to tennis last October after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cut his ban for doping to four months from the nine month suspension the ITF originally imposed.
"In a system of justice, the first rule is to respect the sentence," said Bitti. "If the sanction has been reduced it means they have recognized some mitigating factor that the first level didn’t consider."
Bitti said he was "very happy" to see Cilic win: "Cilic was always a good player. It’s more that he has done the last steps – he was missing something, now perhaps he has found his balance in tennis."
He said tennis had introduced more blood tests and the quality of anti-doping measures was high.
"In terms of quantity, we also depend on the national agencies, which are not so much targeting tennis,” said Bitti. "We are trying to convince them to do more on tennis. They are really focusing on cycling and other sports.”
The Italian, a former player, said the structure of matches could be changed to keep fans interested.
"Tennis is becoming longer in terms of rallies and so the peak of attention both for television and the spectator is at the end of the set,” he said.
"It would be better to have five sets at four (games) then three sets at six because you have more peak of attention, but this is just a vision for the future. To change the rules of the game you need the consensus of the players, of many people."
(Reporting by Matt Smith, editing by Alan Baldwin)