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One of sport’s most historic competitions will enter a new era next week as the 2019 Davis Cup Finals commence in Madrid.
La Caja Mágica will be the setting for the men’s national team tennis showpiece, which has undergone significant transformation over the past 18 months through a partnership between the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and Kosmos, a company founded and chaired by Spanish football star Gerard Piqué with the support of Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman and CEO of Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten.
The 25-year agreement represents a total investment of $3bn into tennis, with Kosmos and the ITF promising a significant increase in income for competing nations from the tournament and a new player prize fund of $20m, elevating the revamped 118-year-old Davis Cup to Grand Slam prize money levels.
Taking place from November 18-24, the condensed Davis Cup Finals will see 18 teams compete over a week-long event in one location. Two wild cards, Argentina and Great Britain, will be joined by the four semi-finalists from the 2018 competition – Croatia, France, Spain and USA – and the 12 winners of the 2019 Qualifiers.
The Finals will take place in a group-stage format over the first four days, with the countries divided into six groups of three teams and each tie consisting two singles matches and one doubles match.
The six group winners and the two second-placed teams with the best records will qualify for the quarter-finals. The teams placed fifth to 16th will compete in the following year’s qualifiers, while the bottom two teams will be relegated to their respective Zone Groups.
Bringing the world of tennis to Madrid
To amplify the revamp, organisers are planning plenty of activities to enhance the fan experiences for spectators at La Caja Mágica.
“The Davis Cup Finals is about bringing the world of tennis to Madrid and for the whole city to be involved in the event,” an ITF spokesperson tells us. “Fan experience events include Kids’ Day ahead of the competition, where children will have the chance to play with both their tennis idols and characters from Sesame Street, in collaboration with PortAventura World.
“The fan zone will offer multiple opportunities for fans to immerse themselves in the competition throughout the week. At the Rakuten stand, fans can experience a ‘trophy ceremony’, where they are able to get a taste of what it is like to be crowned Davis Cup champions, or the ‘VR Experience’, where they can take a 360-degree virtual tour of La Caja Mágica with access to the player zones. At the Movistar stand, there will be a ‘Multiball’ virtual game for fans to test their reaction times.”
Sony Music partnership
When the reforms were approved in August 2018, ITF president David Haggerty said the changes would create a “true festival of tennis and entertainment”. As part of these efforts, the 2019 event’s opening and closing ceremonies will feature performances from international artists thanks to a partnership agreed in September between Kosmos Tennis and Sony Music Latin Iberia.
The opening ceremony will be a 360-degree audiovisual show featuring technological elements and live music, with organisers stating it will combine tradition and innovation, paying tribute to the history of the Davis Cup with the players from the 18 competing nations.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Piqué’s partner Shakira will play a key part in proceedings, with the Colombian pop star headlining the closing ceremony on November 24. Other confirmed performers at the finals include Norwegian-British DJ Alan Walker, Colombian singer and songwriter Camilo, and Puerto Rican stars Farruko and Pedro Capó.
Regarding the festival concept, the ITF spokesperson adds: “Having the 18 best nations in one city over one week gives fans the opportunity to watch many more matches involving many of the best players in the world. A partnership with Sony Music means that the opening and closing ceremonies at the Da-vis Cup Finals will feature performances from internationally-renowned artists, including superstar Shakira.”
New hosting strategy
The ITF believes a change in concept for the hosting rights to the finals will also boost the fan experience, with the neutral site idea having marked a distinct change from the previous format through which a host was only decided after the semi-finals. Madrid has a two-year contract to host the event, having seen off Lille in France in September 2018.
“Fans from all over the world will have longer to plan their trips to the finals,” the ITF spokesperson adds. “Under the previous format, there were approximately two months between the semi-finals and the finals, meaning fans would only know if their team were in the finals and where it would be played with short notice.
“Furthermore, it gave the event hosts a lot less time to organise the finals. Under this new format, and with the dates and location of next year’s finals event already confirmed, a lot more planning and re-source can be given to enhancing the fan experience around the event.”