Letter to the LTA RE: Proposed Davis Cup Reforms

BRITISH ASSOCIATION OF TENNIS SUPPORTERS (BATS)

19 April 2018

Mr David Rawlinson

Acting President, ITF Board

Dear David Rawlinson,

Proposals to change the format of the Davis Cup

The British Association of Tennis Supporters (BATS) has been in existence for almost 40 years and has a growing membership, currently standing at more than 900.  The Association facilitates large attendances at Davis Cup ties both home and away.  In addition, we arrange trips to the Fed Cup and other ATP World Tour events.  In short, we have an intense interest in any proposed changes to the current Davis Cup format.

BATS meets annually at a sports hotel in Basingstoke for our AGM and most recently we gathered in March.  As you might expect, the Davis Cup arose as an agenda item in addition to social media discussions involving the wider membership.  BATS members appear to be of one voice in relation to the current proposals and it is right that we share this with you in advance of August when we understand this matter will be decided upon.

As experienced Davis/Fed Cup fans, we understand that highly ranked players do not always participate as part of their national team.  This can of course be a strength as up and coming players have the opportunity to excel. Cameron Norrie did just that in Marbella earlier this year.  We also understand that tennis players have a very busy schedule and, given there is little advantage to Davis Cup participation in terms of finance or ranking, motivation to take part is likely to be low.  On the other hand, it is very clear indeed that players in some cases are highly motivated to win the Davis Cup at least once for their country. Once achieved, they are then likely to take a break or just play in one tie.  The link between Davis Cup participation and the Olympics does have an effect on players’ willingness to play and we would anticipate that this requirement would remain.

BATS has a major concern that the motivation to change the Davis Cup format does not take account of fans in any way at all.  We worry that the changes are more motivated by money and some senior player needs, and that this event will be concentrated during one week at the end of November in far away places such as Singapore.

We do not have to remind you of the kind of atmosphere generated at a home tie in Davis Cup.  Fans are not only prepared to travel to Europe or further afield, but actively embrace the prospect, often to the point of over subscription, which clearly illustrates the zestful enthusiasm of our fans to support such an event.  Fed Cup events with multi teams taking part only show such vigorous support when the home team makes an appearance. For example, support for the Estonian team most recently.

The proposals as they stand will offer the rich tapestry of 18 national teams in one week but it seems to us that such a large event will have to be staged far away from where most fans actually live.  Even the most committed of us are not likely to travel to Asia on an annual basis in order to support our national team. In other words, this will not be a Davis Cup tournament any more and we shall lose the single opportunity to cheer for, in our case, GB.  To this end, we feel strongly that this proposed change of approach to venue i.e doing away with home and away, fundamentally and somewhat negatively alters the central and unique tenet of the Davis Cup itself.

While we do note that not all of the senior players support the change proposals, we do alsoacknowledge that the uncertainty of the current format can have a negative effect upon a player’s diary.  This may offer the opportunity to move away from an annual event, rather than re-vamp the tournament completely.

BATS is well aware that tennis, like other sports, is largely resource led and it is clear that large amounts of money are at stake here to promote this annual event at the end of November.  We would ask that the LTA/ITF consider the support and the commitment of home tie fans and the undoubted contribution that makes to the ability of teams to perform well.

May we suggest that a consultation period is built in so that the views of fans much more widely can be taken alongside those of business and players.  Part of that consultation should outline the difficulties experienced within the current format so that we can think of compromise solutions for change that will not threaten the very essence of Davis Cup tournaments.

Yours sincerely,

Lynne Moran

Secretary, BATS Executive Committee

Davis Cup – Great Britain v Australia by Rachel, a BATS member

If you are anything like me, many of you will have spent the days since that fantastic weekend in Glasgow in a dream-like state, re-watching television highlights that, although good, do not come close to the spine-tingling atmosphere of the Emirates Arena. Have we really reached the final? Was it only 5 years ago that we were staring at the bottom rung of the competition? Are we really only 3 rubbers from ending 79 years of hurt?

Much has been made of the importance of Andy Murray to the team. To have a player ranked in the top 3 is undeniably a huge advantage. Andy’s commitment to the competition, particularly over recent years, has been inspiring. Rarely does a tennis player have an opportunity to compete in a team, let alone alongside a sibling, and his gold medal at London 2012 must have further fuelled Andy’s clear desire to reach the pinnacle of team tennis. Andy was clearly in discomfort with his back during the semifinal but his determination was evident from the first serve to the last.

Let us not forget, however, that Davis Cup ties are not won in two rubbers. Dan Evans and James Ward have played important roles over the years and the development of Kyle Edmund makes the battle for the second singles place an interesting one. Doubles matches are often crucial and may indeed decide the final. We have been fortunate to have many doubles players make important contributions. The doubles rubber of the semifinal was outstanding and will live long in the memory. Andy and Jamie will surely be favourites to start in the final. Dom Inglot will be waiting in the wings though.

A successful team also needs an excellent leader and support staff to succeed and, whilst Andy may be the poster boy for this leadership, Leon Smith has quietly gone about his work as captain in an unassuming yet motivational fashion since being appointed in 2010. Smith’s record speaks for itself- 11-2 win/loss. He clearly has fostered a healthy team spirit that may not always have been present with other captains. Surely a bigger position in British tennis awaits him?

Great Britain will head to Belgium as favourites, on paper at least, but the Belgians will have something to say on the matter. They will be out to avenge their loss to Britain in their last final 111 years ago. Home advantage, too, cannot be overstated.

To Leon, Andy, Jamie Murray, James, Dan, Dom, Colin, Ross, Jonny, Jamie Baker and all those involved in the team over the past few years we say thank you and good luck. Bring on the Belgians!

Looking ahead: Great Britain v France 17-19 July 2015 by Rachel, a BATS member

Emptiness. That is the general feeling that any British tennis fan feels on the Monday after Wimbledon ends. We spend those first few days desperately trying to fill the void that the end of the British grass court season leaves. Shelves are mended, houses are cleaned and dogs get walked more often. This year, however, will be different. This year, the British grass court season has one more punch to pack and it’s a big one: Great Britain v France in the Davis Cup quarter-finals.

It has been 79 years since Great Britain lifted the trophy. In that time Britain has had 17 Prime Ministers and its population has grown by almost 20 million. It has been 34 years since Great Britain even reached a semi-final. Surely the time is right for the years of hurt to end?

GB Davis Cup Captain Leon Smith has transformed the British team into just that- a team. Andy Murray may be the star player but you won’t find him taking all the credit. Indeed, Britain would not have reached the quarter-finals without the hard work of other members. Who can forget James Ward’s heroics against John Isner in Glasgow or the consistent performances from the doubles players?

Smith will be heartened by the fact that he has more players vying for selection. Kyle Edmund’s admirable performance at Roland Garros will not have gone unnoticed but abdominal and shoulder strains seem to currently be holding him back. Liam Broady has also been knocking on the door and his superb comeback from two sets down to win against Marinko Matosevic in the first round of Wimbledon demonstrates his strength of character and ability on grass. James Ward, however, is the tried and tested player; the one that we can depend on to perform on the big stage. Ward seems to relish the Davis Cup atmosphere and it is a shame that he has not been able to convert his heroics to his own singles career. His performance at Wimbledon, however, will hopefully boost his confidence and breaking into the top 100 will open up opportunities in tournaments that have hitherto been unavailable to him.

Doubles often gets overlooked in the media but a Davis Cup team is nothing without its doubles players. They can be the making or breaking of a team. Britain have been blessed with an array of players to choose from over the past few years. Jonny Marray, Dominic Inglot, Jamie Murray, Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins, amongst others, have all played their part. One does wonder, however, whether the long term effects of the LTA’s cuts to doubles funding will mean so many doubles specialists will be available for selection in future. Selection for the quarter-final was far from certain. Jamie Murray’s excellent results with John Peers were enough to secure his spot.  Given Dom Inglot has only recently returned from injury Smith may have been tempted to select Colin Fleming but he will have been fully aware of the fact that Jamie Murray and Inglot came close to defeating the Bryan brothers in the previous round.

As for the French, well we may have a champion in Andy Murray but they have ten players in the top 100. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet and that ultimate showman, Gail Monfils, were all options available to captain Arnaud Clement. Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut were recently crowned champions of Queen’s in the doubles but Clement decided to go for three possible singles players in Tsonga, Simon and Gasket together with Mahut.

Belief is key and this Great Britain team is one which believes they can win. Bring on the French!

Jo’s 2015 Challenge by Jo Bartholomew, a BATS committee member

When Bally died, I think it is fair to say that I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t believe the cruel twist that had taken the life of one of the most gentle, warm hearted and funny people I could ever wish to know. Bally was just so grounded and “down to earth” – a quality which helped to make her one of Great Britain’s most successful female tennis players of the Open era.

Not once did Bally complain about anything, the hard grind of a tennis professional, the life on tour or even her chronic liver condition (Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis). She simply got on with Life and took the rough with the smooth in her stride. She was a credit to tennis and to Great Britain.

How could I help to continue her legacy? Well, before she died, she created her own Academy. The Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT) in Ipswich provides the opportunity for youngsters from less privileged backgrounds, to learn to play tennis. I have now had the opportunity to visit the academy and Bally has created something quite extraordinary. Bally’s love of her sport is reflected in the girls and boys who attend the academy. Actually, I cannot find the right words for this, which may surprise some of you because I can usually be relied upon to say what I think.

After Bally’s funeral – I am not afraid to admit that I drove home to Essex with tears streaming down my face (my Spanish friends, one of whom had been a coach to Bally, were in the car with me and they too were in a similar state.) – I knew that I had to do something to help the academy. But what could I do? I mean, I can’t run or anything daft like that, and that seems to be what most people do when they want to raise some money for a good cause…

I joined a running club. A WHAT? I hear you cry – Are you crazy? Well, yes, apparently I am crazy. (With a Twitter name of Crazyduck, that about settles it. No?!) Anyway, to cut to the chase (oops, sorry, Real Tennis terms here, yes I play that game too.) I started going to Parkrun every Saturday morning and then I joined my local running club – Billericay Striders.

On January 3rd, 2015 in the pouring rain I took part in the first 10K run of my 2015 Challenge. This event (I won’t call it a race, because it wasn’t) took place in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and where better to launch a campaign like this, than in the shadows of the Olympic Stadium, in memory of a 2012 Team GB Olympian and the runner just happens to have been a 2012 Games Maker. I splashed and puddle-jumped (and muttered under my breath about why on earth I had thought of anything so crazy) my way around the park for 10K and collected a nice shiny medal (I do like bright shiny objects), a t-shirt and a time of 1:29:30 for the record book.

OK so maybe I can run a bit. I was so proud of myself. I actually managed a 10K run. I didn’t run all the way round, but hey, I had to start somewhere, right? More importantly I was doing something constructive to help future tennis players to learn and enjoy our wonderful game.

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Since then, I have done at least 5 more 10K events as well as a handful of 5K. My 10K times have been similar to this one – pretty consistent! I have now completed 3 5K runs in Hyde Park, and this is a venue which holds very special memories for me because some years ago, Bally and I actually ran part of the Hyde Park course together. Of course, she was far too fast for me, and disappeared in a cloud of dust. (I kept up with her for about 500m.) She waited for me at the end of the run and Olga (her Mum) invited me to share some sandwiches with them.

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My EBAT colours attract a lot of interest at these race events – I often get complete strangers coming up to me and saying what a worthy cause it is. That in itself is a good reason to run. My latest 10K was actually today (Sunday 7th June) in Finsbury Park. It was organised by “Women’s running” magazine and I am very proud to announce that not only did they ask for my fund-raising story, for publication in their on-line magazine, but I also returned a 10K PB of 1:25:11.

There was a point today when I thought I was not going to complete 10K and for one nanosecond, I thought about stopping after 5K. Of course, I didn’t and that is partly because a little voice in my head which sounded suspiciously like Bally’s, told me that under no circumstances was I going to give in because giving in does not register in the dictionary.

The lure of a nice shiny medal at the end of a run is quite an incentive – now I have a little collection of them and I dedicate them all to Bally. There is no doubt that the running has improved my tennis fitness too, so long may it continue. We are only half way through 2015 and already, because of Bally, I have done things that I never ever thought were possible.

So far I have raised nearly £250 for EBAT through my justgiving page. 2015 is only at half-way stage. The next few months are like this:

June 2015 – South Woodham Ferrers 10K

July 2015 – British 10K (London) and Brentwood 10K

August 2015 – Ipswich 10K (on Bally’s birthday) and hopefully 25K of the London to Cambridge Challenge – this is a WALK!!- over August bank holiday.

October 2015 Royal Parks Half Marathon.

That’s all for now. Watch THIS space!

My visit to Roland Garros by Rachel, a BATS member

To many people ‘dirt’ has negative connotations- foul, filthy and unclean. Tennis fans view ‘the dirt’ differently. The crushed bricks that make the red clay surface (let’s forget Madrid’s blue experiment) signify the second phase of the tennis season, the climax of which is the second Grand Slam of the year- Roland Garros.

Clay has not always been kind to British players, although Andy Murray’s recent success is a welcome change. To British tennis fans, however, Roland Garros is not only important because it is a Grand Slam but because the second week also signifies the beginning of the grass court swing and the opportunity for young British talent to take advantage of wildcards.

Circumstances permitting, I try to visit Roland Garros every year. For those of you who have not visited, I would encourage you to do so. It lacks the tradition and quirks of Wimbledon but is nonetheless enjoyable in a different way, particularly as tickets are easier to purchase and there is much more seating available for the outside courts.

Whichever tournament I visit, I always try to watch our British players. Imagine my delight, therefore, when it became apparent that Monday 25th May would see five, yes FIVE, Brits compete in the main draw. Unfortunately, that delight was short lived when the schedule was released and four players were scheduled to be fourth on court. All being well, Aljaz Bedene would get my support early afternoon but I was going to have to make a difficult choice thereafter. Murray was out of the equation as he was playing on Chatrier which left Watson, Konta and Edmund in the mix. Having followed Kyle Edmund’s progress closely over the past few years, I decided that I would spend the latter part of the day on Court 7 for his match against Stephane Robert.

I started the day by positioning myself on Court 6 to watch Feliciano Lopez (11) v Teymuraz Gabashvili, which proved to be the upset of the day. Lopez has always struggled on clay in comparison to his Spanish compatriots and was unable to play his natural game which is more suited to the grass. Gabashvili totally out-powered Lopez and won the match 6-3 7-6(9) 6-3.

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Feliciano Lopez

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Teymuraz Gabashvili

Unfortunately, the Bedene v Thiem match had already started by this time and Bedene was down by two sets. I decided that rather than spend my time queuing for entry to that court that I would take a break and queue for a decent position on Court 7 in preparation for the Edmund match. Whether you’ve visited Roland Garros or simply watched on your television, you will know that the French like to get behind their players. The key, therefore, was to get a seat during the previous match which was Sara Errani v Alison Riske. Riske pushed Errani to a third set before the former finalist prevailed 7-6(1) 2-6 6-0

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Alison Riske  

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Sara Errani

And then it was time. The previously placid Court 7 turned into a raucous cacophony of sound as the French packed the stands to support their man. Cries of ‘Robert, Robert’ greeted Stephane Robert as he stepped on court. Support for Kyle Edmund was significantly less, with approximately half a dozen Brits scattered across the stands. Robert gave the crowd what they wanted in the first set, taking it 6-2. Edmund seemed to be rushing points and missing the lines with wild shots. By the second set, however, Edmund had settled into his game and, consequently, grew in confidence. Some solid serving and excellent forehand winners saw Edmund take it 6-4. Edmund battled against the French crowd admirably to continue his success, taking the third set 6-3. Robert, however, battled back and took the fourth set 7-5.

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Kyle Edmund

At this point Edmund ‘did a Murray’ and took a bathroom break, much to the annoyance of the French crowd who booed him on his return. By this point, however, the British support had increased with presence of a certain A. Murray in the stands showing his support.

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Stephane Robert

The break seemed to do the Brit good as he raced to a 4-0 lead and eventually won the match 6-2 in the fifth. It was a composed first Grand Slam win for Edmund who battled the crowd and cramp to reach the second round. It was very disappointing, therefore, that he was forced to pull out of a potential thriller against Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury but being fully healthy for the grass court swing takes priority.

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Andy Murray supporting Edmund

My second and final day at the tennis only involved one match with British interest. Colin Fleming and Jonny Marray were up against Feliciano Lopez and Max Mirnyi. The British duo started well, breaking Mirnyi’s usually solid serve and taking the first set 6-3. Unfortunately, thereafter they failed to play the big points well and eventually lost 3-6 6-3 6-2. Hopefully the boys will have more luck on the grass.

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Jonny Marray and Colin Fleming