By Rob Richie
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Spain wins last year's Davis Cup / The Hindu
Tennis is a terrific sport, but it needs a real “season” – one that fosters more chances for the top players to play one another and has a clear off-season to avoid burnout for fans and players.

Here’s my proposal. It will give the sport of tennis a more coherent structure, a definitive off-season, and a season-ending Davis Cup extravaganza, and make the sport more fun and more fair in the process.

A Season From February to October: Right now, tennis at best has a six-week off-season, ending with the November round robin tournaments among the top eight players and starting in January with the Australian Open and tune-up events. Far better would be a season that gives players a few months to recharge – playing charity events, if they want, but with no obligations.

I would move the Australian Open schedule up a month into February and close the individual season with the U.S. Open, which would be pushed back to the end of September. The year would close with the two weeks associated with the re-organized Davis Cup.

Fourteen Core Tournaments for the Top 50 Players: There should be 14 tournaments in which the top 50-ranked players at the start of the year would be expected to participate, with additional slots for qualifiers and lower-ranked players who do well in the initial Grand Slams. These 14 tournaments would be the only way to earn points affecting one’s position in the top 50 at the end of the year. The four Grand Slams would count the most, of course, but the other 11 tournaments would provide significant points towards rankings as well. The Slams would have fields of 128 players playing over two weeks; the ten additional tournaments would have 64 players playing over one week.

Tennis Divisions: There would a series of tennis tours analogous to the series of divisions in English Premier League soccer: a First Division composed of the top 50 ranked players, a Second Division of players in the next 50  spots, and so on. A Top 50 player might play in a lower division tournament to improve their play or participate in a favorite locale, but doing so would not provide points affecting the top 50 rankings.

Just as with the English Premier League, at the end of the year the bottom 15 players in the top-50 would be relegated to the Second Division at the start the year and the top 15 in the lower division would be elevated.  Grand Slams and other First Division tournaments would provide a chance for a lower division player to jump into guaranteed slots in the higher division during the course of a year.

The 10 non-Slam tournaments would vary in their venue, although well-known venues like the Italian Open and Key Biscayne would always have a Division One tournament at least once every two years. When not holding a Division One tournament, a venue would have a Division Two or Division Three tournament.

Season-Ending Davis Cup: The individual season would end with the U.S. Open in late September -- a much more fitting place to finish the season and determine the top players for the year than a November tournament indoors. In October, the season would end with a two-week Davis Cup in which the top eight nations would gather in one spot – not the same place every year, of course, although the previous year’s winner could potentially earn the option to host the Cup.

Players would participate in as many as six meaningful matches over the two weeks. Each match between nations would continue to be comprised of four singles matches and one doubles match. It would be a single-elimination tournament among the nations, with three wins giving you the Cup. After each three-day match, there would be a day or two of rest before the next round.

Nations would play not only to win the Cup, but to determine their place in the top eight. For example, the four national teams that lost in the first round would have matches to identify which teams finish fifth, and the two losing nations in the second round would play for third. For an incentive, the top five nations might have an automatic bid into next year’s Davis Cup, with the remaining three having to join other nations in a separate qualifying tournament earlier in the year. (To gain entrance into that qualifying tournament, a “Second Division” Davis Cup tournament could take place at the same time as the First Division Cup).

This Davis Cup plan ideally would draw media and fan attention analogous to the Ryder Cup and make the Davis Cup more attractive to players wary of all the extra travel associated with the current Cup.

5/8/2014 21:27:02

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