Sun. Dec 5th, 2021

Australian tennis legend Lleyton Hewitt has described further rumors of changes to the Davis Cup as “ridiculous” and says a long-term move in the Middle East would actually be to “sell the soul” of the iconic event.

The renewed 2021 edition of the Davis Cup started overnight, but Australia’s campaign is already in shambles after falling to a 3-0 loss to Croatia in Turin, Italy.

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Borna Gojo beat Alexei Popyrin 7-6, 7-5, before Marin Cilic sent Alex de Minaur 6-1, 5-7, 6-4.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic then drove to a 6-3, 6-1 victory over de Minaur and John Peers in the doubles.

Australia, who have won the Davis Cup 28 times, will next face Hungary on Saturday.

After last year’s competition was canceled due to the Covid pandemic, this year’s Davis Cup marks the second time the tournament has been played under different conditions, as it was significantly changed to look like a World Cup format.

The world group game in which Australia participates takes place over the course of a week in a single venue instead of home and away matches.

Reverse singles gums have also been scrapped to make match-ups shorter.

But probably the most controversial change was to do away with the best of five set matches in favor of the best of three – a change that was beaten down by many former players and traditionalists, including Hewitt.

Lleyton Hewitt has criticized rumors of changes to the Davis Cup.  (AAP image / James Elsby)
Lleyton Hewitt has criticized rumors of changes to the Davis Cup. (AAP image / James Elsby)Source: AAP

Now there is speculation that the Davis Cup could be held in Abu Dhabi for five years in what would be a huge lucrative event for event owners Kosmos Tennis – run by former Barcelona football star Gerard Piqué.

Kosmos partnered with the International Tennis Federation for 25 years and $ 4.2 billion back in 2018.

Hewitt, who was part of two Davis Cup-winning Australian teams in 1999 and 2003, said such a move would be tantamount to “selling the soul of the Davis Cup”.

“I’ve only heard one rumor, but I think it’s ridiculous, it’s not what the Davis Cup is about,” he said.

“The Davis Cup was held in the highest respect, up there with the top of our sport in tennis – with matches played over five sets.

“We threw it out the door, and then we’ve thrown the house and out the door, too.” Playing a qualifier here or there, best of three sets, is not the same as having a major draw at home and away during the year.

“So if they go and sell the soul from the Davis Cup to the Middle East for another five years, I think it’s ridiculous and they’re really killing the competition.

“I’ve been pretty loud about it all for the last four or five years now. This is a wonderful stadium tonight, but it’s not a massive crowd, it’s not what the Davis Cup is about.

“Some of my best memories were playing in the Davis Cup semi-finals or finals in front of packed houses, and no matter if it was in Australia or out, the atmosphere was incredible.

Hewitt fears the heyday of the Davis Cup is over. (Photo by Brenton EDWARDS / AFP)Source: AFP

“We sit back, me and Tony Roche and tell these young guys stories about when we played in those situations. I’m just really disappointed now. Guys like Alex (de Minaur) would do anything to be in that situation to play in the big matches.

“I know what (the old Davis Cup) meant to the top men, it meant the whole world. There is something very special about this competition.”

Hewitt said he had no hope he or other Davis Cup captains would be consulted on further changes to the competition.

“We did not have input four years ago, so I’m not sure it’s going to mean much now,” he said.

“It’s run by a footballer and his company, and it’s quite different from anything tennis has been through in the past.

“The ITF (International Tennis Federation) certainly did not come to me and ask about my thoughts or pretty much any Australian who has had pretty much the richest tradition in this competition for over 100 years.”

But despite his concerns, the double grand slam winner said there was no way he would consider boycotting the Davis Cup.

“I never thought about boycotting the Davis Cup or matches for our country,” Hewitt said.

“It has lost something very special about it, but these guys get an opportunity to wear the green and gold and the chance to play for Australia.”

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