To the disgust of many in the sport, the completely revamped Davis Cup will climax in Madrid this coming week with the Finals.
Last year, there was uproar on Twitter and beyond as the world governing body (The ITF) voted for wholesale changes to a competition first held in 1900.
The World Group has now dropped the much-loved home-and-away ties, five-set matches and year-long campaign.
Instead, there will be a Finals event held over a week using best-of-three sets in one destination, with Madrid hosting the Finals for the first two years.
Strangely, this revamp of the competition has been led by Barcelona centre-half Gerard Pique with the backing of a consortium called Kosmos. The footballer’s involvement hasn’t gone down superbly so far, with Roger Federer concerned that the event might become “The Pique Cup”.
This new World Group format will see 18 nations compete over the week on indoor hard courts at Madrid’s Caja Magica. There will first be six groups of three countries in a round-robin format. The six group winners and two highest-scoring runners-up will then progress to the knockout stage.
The nations battling it out in the 2019 edition are: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Spain and the United States.
Since going through each group might take longer than Bryson de Chambeau lining up a putt, I’ll just give you my overall favourites and outsiders.
Spain – 3/1
It would be wrong to leave out the host country here, particularly given the presence of the mighty Mallorcan. Rafael Nadal will arrive straight from London, but his extraordinary passion for Davis Cup competition should overcome any tired limbs. Spain will certainly love to have him for singles action as the 33-year-old boasts a ridiculous 24-1 record in the event. Nadal will be joined by world no.9 Roberto Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta, Feliciano Lopez and Marcel Granollers. It should be noted that the five-time champions find themselves in a very tough Group B (with Croatia and Russia) and they are not playing on Rafa’s beloved clay.
France – 9/2
The French are usually a nation to be feared in Davis Cup with ten victories over the years. The current squad has preserved that legacy with appearances in the last two finals. Les Blues, captained by Sebastian Grosjean, will have a strong squad in Madrid as Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Pierre Hugues-Herbert and Nicolas Mahut have been nominated. They should be too strong for Japan and Novak Djokovic-reliant Serbia in Group A.
Australia – 6/1
There are few countries with a tennis history as impressive as the Aussies. Australia have won the Davis Cup 28 times in the past, second only to the United States overall. Captain Lleyton Hewitt can call on a good team in Madrid with Alex de Minaur, Nick Kyrgios, John Millman, Jordan Thompson and John Peers available. They should be strong enough to top Group D, though 2017 runners-up Belgium will provide tough opposition.
Croatia – 17/2
They may be in a group with Rafa’s gang, but the defending champs will not be intimidated at all. Borna Coric and Marin Cilic provide a strong singles platform for Croatia and they are backed by three excellent doubles players in Ivan Dodig, Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic. With that pedigree and on a hard court, do not be surprised if Hrvatska upset Espana and top the group.
Great Britain – 12/1
Whisper it but the 2015 champions have a more than sneaky chance to recapture the trophy. A squad of Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund, Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski is decent, but the addition of Andy Murray puts them in serious contention. The Scot, who looks more like his old self by the month, loves Davis Cup and has an outstanding 30-3 record in singles. Team GB should have too much for Kazakhstan and The Netherlands in Group E and could cause trouble in the knockouts.
Canada – 22/1
This has to be one of the more exciting nations in Madrid this week, with flamboyant prodigies Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime leading the singles charge. The injured Milos Raonic has been replaced with world no.94 Brayden Schuur, but 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Vasek Pospisil provides plenty of class in that format. Canada will need to play well to advance from a highly competitive Group F that includes Italy and the United States.
* All odds correct at time of posting.