Watching Katie Swan and Harriet Dart playing their first Fed Cup doubles, and obviously enjoying themselves no end before an enthusiastic crowd at the University of Bath, I thought again about the Tennis authorities’ stupid decision to scrap the Davis Cup as we know it, and replace it with an 18-Nation World Cup of Tennis to be played in November, with matches reduced from five sets to three. One of the attractive features of the Davis Cup has been that ties are often taken to cities and towns where people have little opportunity to watch good quality live tennis, and matches are almost always played before enthusiastic and usually partisan crowds. This will no longer be the case.
We all know why the change has been made. It’s not because a country’s best players sometimes opt out of the Davis Cup because participating would disturb their schedule. It’s because the new format will attract Big Money from television, sponsors, advertisers, and especially of course the gambling industry. No doubt other things will be done to jazz the show up and make it more of a spectacle – as is already the case with the ghastly Rod Laver Cup between Europe and the Rest of the World. As ever the aim will be to attract viewers who know little and care less about the game – all so that everybody concerned can rake the money in.
Radix malorum est cupiditas. In the last year of his life and the last days of the Twentieth Century the doyen of English cricket writers, E. W. (Jim) Swanton, said to an interviewer: “I think it’s going to be a great struggle to keep cricket anything like the game we’ve known and loved because now television has got it by the throat and we need the money.”