'They are killing the competition' - Abu Dhabi to be confirmed as Davis Cup finals host

·3-min read
Italy's Lorenzo Sonego in action during his match against Croatia's Borna Gojo - Reuters
Italy's Lorenzo Sonego in action during his match against Croatia's Borna Gojo - Reuters

Controversial plans for Abu Dhabi to host the Davis Cup finals are expected to be waved through this week by the board of the International Tennis Federation, before the official announcement is made on Sunday.

When Telegraph Sport revealed Abu Dhabi’s putative five-year deal last week, the reaction around the tennis world was less than enthusiastic. “If they are going and selling the soul of the Davis Cup to the Middle-East for another five years,” said Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt, “I think it’s ridiculous, and they are really killing the competition.”

But Telegraph Sport understands that there are no other workable options being presented to the ITF board this week. Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique – the frontman for the Kosmos consortium, which now effectively owns the Davis Cup – has struck this deal personally and there is little sign of any opposition from the ITF.

Kosmos are believed to want next year’s 16-team finals event to run in two phases. They are thought to be considering a preliminary group stage in Europe, with four different cities each hosting four teams – just as this year’s finals began with 18 teams spread across the three cities of Innsbruck, Turin and Madrid – before the surviving eight nations move on to Abu Dhabi.

But the logistics promise to be highly complex. The flight time from Europe to Abu Dhabi is lengthy – in some cases taking close to seven hours – and there is at least a three-hour time difference to deal with. Players would be going from indoor events in wintry Europe to outdoor matches in the heat of the Middle-East. They might need a couple of days to acclimatise, which is hardly ideal when the event is already finishing in early December.

There is also the question of partisan fans. Nobody can be completely confident of their team reaching the last eight, so who would book to travel to Abu Dhabi on spec? The crowds there will likely lack any national loyalty, barring a few local expats, and the rowdy atmosphere that makes the Davis Cup special will thus be lost.

Add in the absence of any elite Middle-Eastern national teams, and the human-rights issues – homosexuality is illegal in Abu Dhabi, for instance – and there would seem to be few arguments in favour of this move other than the wealth of the region. Pique is believed to have promised $16m in prizemoney.

Back at this year’s competition, Great Britain will face Germany on Tuesday as they look to earn a place in the weekend’s semi-finals. This will be their third straight match to be staged behind closed doors in Innsbruck, after group-stage victories over France and the Czech Republic. Now Dan Evans, Cameron Norrie and the doubles team of Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski will be playing for the right to move on to Madrid, where fans can actually come to watch.

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