SportsPique and the Davis Cup, from crush to heartbreak

    Pique and the Davis Cup, from crush to heartbreak

    The story had a happy beginning, in the form of a crush and synthesized in a photograph in which Gerard Pique and several Kosmos executives, in suits, jump, celebrate and raise their fists victoriously through the corridors of the Carlton Hotel in Orlando. After all, a revolution had been proclaimed. Or maybe not so much. Yes in form, but perhaps not in substance, as the current situation in the Davis Cup shows. Submitted since then to almost complete cosmetic surgery, to an emergency electroshock, today – after the recent break announced between the company that formulated the remodeling and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) – it remains in a position similar to that of years ago. five years, when he needed immediate resuscitation. Neither one part nor the other; here, the big loser is her, one of the oldest team competitions in the world.

    After 119 years of pure and hard statism, of one refusal after another to maintain the essence of tradition, the ex-soccer player and his partners had achieved what no one had been able to achieve, not even tennis people: remodeling from top to bottom. a tournament that had withered and was crying out for change, already devoured by obsolescence. The image corresponds to August 16, 2018, happy times for the Catalan and his family. That day, Pique’s seductive speech captivated 71% of the representatives of the ITF assembly, hard bones all of them, reactionary body where they exist; 325 yeses, 130 noes and 4 abstentions or invalid votes. The approval, above the required two-thirds, gave the green light to a mammoth project, backed by an investment of close to 2,500 million euros – under the economic auspices of Japanese businessman Hiroshi Mikitani, president and CEO of the Rakuten company, friend of the then FC Barcelona center-back– and signed 25 years from now.

    “The essence of Davis is not going to be lost. Pique left us very impressed, he is a successful man ”, explained the president of the ITF, David Haggerty, in an interview with this newspaper the day after the agreement crystallized, February 2018.“ The millennials they ask for more emotion, and we want balance. You have to modernize Davis and at the same time preserve his identity, ”said the athlete in a chat with EL PAIS, in August of that same year. “It is the project of my life and I think we are on the right track. We are where we wanted to be when we started,” Pique assured in August 2019, during another meeting that took place at the US Open facilities in New York, just three months after the dream that his mind began to imagine almost a decade before acquired. real form in the Caja Magica in Madrid, as part of the launch.

    It happens that from using it so much, love has been spent and what started with champagne and strawberries, ends in an aseptic and distant way. After just over four years of relationship, the ITF and Kosmos terminated it. “The association increased the participation, the prize money [los premios] and the interest in the Davis Cup, and produced funds to support the global development of our sport”, the organization valued last Friday in a statement in which at the same time it mentioned “economic contingencies”. The until now promoting company, meanwhile, specified a few hours later that “it has not been possible to reach an agreement to renegotiate the model, as well as the current and future fee requested by the ITF”. That is to say, neither the numbers add up to one nor the other and hence the current separation, although in reality there was always a swell.

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    Pique and his Kosmos team, in August 2018 during the ITF annual meeting, in Orlando.
    Pique and his Kosmos team, in August 2018 during the ITF annual meeting, in Orlando.GREG NEWTON (AFP)

    From the outset, Pique and his team were always observed with suspicion by the different levels of tennis, a sport in which multiple parties coexist –better or worse avenues, depending on the time; from the rectors of the circuits (ATP for men, WTA for women) to the management of the four Grand Slams, including the ITF itself and the national federations of each country. A large group of professionals appreciated the arrival of the new project to try to reinvigorate the competition, which was too rusty and which increasingly generated greater disaffection among the players, but from the most conservative sectors the abrupt turn of the format (more compressed and dynamic) was censured. and the footballer’s landing was interpreted as an interference. From powers like Australia or France, harsh criticism has been pouring out, understanding that Catalan has corrupted the soul of Davis and that he only wanted to get a piece of it.

    “Historically, tennis has always been an elitist sport, so how is someone from a popular sport like soccer going to come and tell us how we should do things?” describes a person on the circuit who prefers to remain anonymous.

    Without mincing words, Pique entered hard. “Federer’s legs give him what they give him”, he pronounced in October 2018 at Ifema in Madrid, where he officially presented the new product and sent a message to the legendary Swiss, who two weeks ago had distanced himself from the new proposal and had expressed distrust. “I have not spoken to him, but I admit that it is strange to see a footballer meddle in the tennis business. The Davis Cup cannot become the pique cup”, pronounced the 20-big champion. The dart thrown in that auditorium to the Basel, sacred icon of the racket, did not like a hair. “This is the city of the embrace, of the welcome. What good dreams you have, Gerard…! We love you and we admire you. Keep dreaming”, the then mayoress, Manuela Carmena, dedicated to him during the ceremony.

    Promotional poster for the Davis Cup on the Gran Via in Madrid, in May 2021.
    Promotional poster for the Davis Cup on the Gran Via in Madrid, in May 2021.alvaro garcia

    Meanwhile, the Barcelona center-back hired several pieces from tennis with the aim of not skating in an environment in which any false step has a toll. As sports director he recruited Galo Blanco and Albert Costa served as first director, a position that Fernando Verdasco would also play and ultimately David Ferrer. From some circuit forums the courage and entrepreneurial initiative of the footballer was applauded, but even so, the reluctance of the most traditional did not disappear and the heterodoxy of Kosmos, as well as the successive modifications that were made regarding the general idea to polish defects The form – from 18 to 16 teams, from a single city to a multi-venue format, the transfer of the group stage from November to September – did not quite fit with the orthodox Anglo-Saxon mentality of the ITF.

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    “They work like a startup, and that totally clashes with British culture. What they like is that you give them a fixed plan and stick to it. Somehow, they were in different marches, ”says the person previously quoted.

    The impact of the pandemic was powerful –the 2020 edition was suspended–, hence the fixed amount that the promoting company had to pay annually to the organization was renegotiated; the ITF claimed a fee of 40 million euros a year for the rights to the competition. However, they explain from Kosmos, “although due to ticket sales, sponsorships and other sections the balance was positive, expectations have not been met and in the long term this was going to be economically unsustainable for the company. After several months of negotiations we have not been able to reach an agreement. The ITF is not a partner [socio] easy”. Consulted by this newspaper, the International Tennis Federation points out that “it has been made easier for them to be able to make all the changes that they have suggested and in economic terms, the period was extended for them to improve the offer with respect to the fixed ones, but it has not been satisfactory”.

    Gerard Pique, in 2019 during a Davis event on a rooftop in New York.
    Gerard Pique, in 2019 during a Davis event on a rooftop in New York.BRYAN R SMITH (AFP)

    In 2021, the daily The Telegraph revealed Kosmos’s intention to transfer the Final Phase of the competition from Spain to the Middle East after the million-dollar agreement reached with Abu Dhabi, in a maneuver that reinforced the theory of the defenders of the old Davis Cup that the model continued to be perverted. Despite the fact that it contravened its idiosyncrasies and that it could be unpopular in the eyes of public opinion, the ITF gave the green light to the transfer after a debate that generated deep internal divisions, although it was not finally formalized. The friction increased and the agency interpreted that it had already made too many concessions, while from the other side the Kosmos managers understood that the financial demands were too high, given the post-pandemic context. From there to the final disagreement.

    The newspaper L’Equipe published that the players have not received the amounts owed for the last edition, but Pique’s company assures that it has paid “in full” the fixed amount for 2022 (around 32 million euros) and that the cash prizes will be paid “to his due time, when the requirements of the nations are met.”

    Now, the ITF will maintain what was agreed for this year —final phase in Malaga—, but its medium and long-term plans are unknown. In any case, the possibility of going back to the old format has not been discussed, as EL PAIS has learned. With the footballer already on one side and the flame of the Orlando revolution extinguished, it remains to be seen what direction the competition takes, a permanent subject of debate for more than a decade. The change was clearly requested. And it came. But no one is just happy. End of story.

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    AC | Melbourne

    The separation between the ITF and Kosmos occurs in the context of an election year. After two terms, everything indicates that the American Haggerty will present his candidacy again (for the last time, after two terms) to preside over the next four years of the International Federation, so every step counts. In the eyes of some of his colleagues, especially some at the head of federations of great specific weight, the leader (65 years old) has lost credit for his alliance with Kosmos. For this reason, some voices slip, it was convenient for him to distance himself from Pique’s project and try to iron out the rough edges in the face of re-election.

    On the other hand, Rafael Nadal believes that despite the end of the relationship, Davis will have a run. “I don’t have the information of what has happened, but I don’t think it’s such an easy process to cut and bye. We’ll see how it all ends. I don’t think that things will be done from today to tomorrow, nor that it’s over and done with. Likewise, I don’t think the Davis Cup is in danger in any way because it is a historic competition, with a sufficiently important background in the history of our sport; Whether with Kosmos or without Kosmos, I hope it has continuity ”, he answers the question asked by EL PAIS.

    The 22-major champion recalls that the ATP Cup – the parallel World Cup that was born three years ago under the umbrella of the men’s rector – has been removed from the calendar, with the aim of giving greater visibility and promoting Davis.

    “You couldn’t have two World Cups in one month, because that means confusing the viewer a lot, and we have stayed with one. I think it is logical”, continues the one from Manacor; “I don’t think the competition is in danger as such. We will have to see how things can be done better. Now the ATP has one foot in the competition, with which I think we are going to have a little more strength to comment on things that can work better or worse”.

    And the Balearic ditch: “I think it has to be seasoned to make it a success. It’s our only team World Cup, so, in whatever way it is and I’m not saying it for myself, since I’m another one away, we must make it a reference competition, and for that to happen the best players in the world they have to play it, because if not, it loses value. You have to find the right format so that the best can compete. How do you do that? Working and looking for meeting points”.

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    Source: EL PAIS

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