By Janice North
This was the inaugural event for the new format Davis Cup Finals, anticipated and regarded by many with a significant dose of scepticism. For years, there had been a consensus that the 119-year competition needed to change. However, the actual changing of a tradition which had existed in its previous format since 1981 was not welcomed by many tennis die-hards, even though the main aim for change was to encourage participation by the top players in a way which would not exacerbate further burnout on the already punishing ATP tour.
There were around 80 of us BATS members who travelled to Madrid and It’s fair to say that as we started our Spanish adventure on the Tuesday evening at the James Joyce Irish pub, we were all a little unsure of what the new format would hold for the fans, as many had presaged it as a devaluation of the Davis Cup. However, the emotions and heart and soul bared both on and off the court at the Caja Magica trounced this particular concern completely.
The presence and complete engagement of so many key players in Madrid has been seen as one of the successes of this change, as has also the willingness by fans to embrace it in our usual wholehearted manner.
The players all displayed an obsessive determination to win and this was equally matched by the emotional patriotism of the fans, screaming their support for their teams at every match we attended.
While some teams were well backed, notably GB by ourselves and Spain, the home nation in full voice, there were others that were less well supported, resulting in the sad sight of half empty arenas, notably in our quarterfinal match against Germany, where it’s fair to say we had our pick of where to sit.
Part of what made the old format so hugely successful for the fans was the partisan, tribal atmosphere at every match, so we were fortunate that our round robin matches against Holland and Kazakhstan were all of this ilk, and naturally even more so with our subsequent semifinal against Spain, when the atmosphere in the stadium resembled more of a bullfight than an actual tennis match!
Further support for Team GB was generously provided by the LTA in the form of free tickets to the semi final, at a cost of around £60,000 and which spawned an overwhelming response. Andy Murray had also instructed British fans to make “plenty of noise” in the 12,500-capacity arena, an endeavour always richly embraced by our wonderful BATS members.
There is no doubt that the new format presented some teething problems, particularly with scheduling issues, most ostensibly on our first round robin day, which took just under 9 hours to play out, resulting in a much delayed evening session. A combination of late night / early morning finishes for several teams contributed to some fatigue and yet in spite of this, the sheer passion and commitment was incredible to behold.
Team GB fought and played out of their skins to reach the semi finals and moving forward they can be immensely proud of their achievement in reaching the last four of the finals. The star player in my mind was Kyle Edmund, who won all three of his singles rubbers in straight sets.
As staunch British tennis fans, no one however could fail to be rendered open-mouthed with awe at Rafa Nadal’s sheer dominance and determination that Spain would win on home soil, nor fail to be moved by the subsequent presence and raw emotion of Roberto Bautista Agut in the aftermath of his father’s death.
I know I speak for many BATS fans when I say that while this event clearly had issues that needed tweaking, it still bore all the hallmarks of excitement and tribal hysteria that we all love about Davis Cup and I for one am already looking forward to the next finals, which as semi finalists this year, Team GB have already qualified for in 2020. Bring it on, I say!
Janice North – November 2019