The “Gerard Piqué Cup” starts this Thursday. Canceled last year due to a health crisis, the new-look Davis Cup, which has kept from the venerable event only the lucrative name, returns to the courts in Innsbruck, Turin and Madrid. These three cities share the group matches, where eighteen countries compete, before the final phase in the Spanish capital. Two years ago, Spain’s victory on home soil in the hot atmosphere of Caja Magica was not enough to mask the organization’s fiasco, with matches scheduled at improbable times in front of completely deserted stands. .
In this regard, at least, the Blues, who experienced the sadness of 2019, will not be disoriented. The confinement decreed in Austria to stem the wave of Covid-19 will indeed force them to face the Czech Republic this Thursday at 4 p.m. and Great Britain on Saturday at 10 a.m. behind closed doors.
“Quite honestly, between what we experienced in Madrid and what we are going to experience in Innsbruck, there won’t be much difference”, squeaked Nicolas Mahut, victorious last Sunday of the Masters in doubles with Herbert and big Slayer, like most of the Habs, of the competition organized by Kosmos, the company of the defender of FC Barcelona.
Innsbruck, morne plaine
Training sessions in an ice rink and the start of competition in the deep void of 6,600 unoccupied seats. This is the icy backdrop that awaits the France team for its first two (and perhaps last) matches. “It’s unfortunate not to have an audience,” explains captain Sébastien Grosjean. We will have to look for mental resources as at the time of the recovery in the empty stadiums after the first phase of the pandemic. We will have to be united without the energy of the public. We know that it is often the public that made the difference. “
But we are talking about another era in the home-away format with four singles and a double (against two singles and a double today) where supporters could really change matches …
“It’s a new formula, blows the former world No. 4, winner of the event twenty years ago in Australia. Another era with a calendar that has changed a lot where the Davis Cup was struggling to find its place. With the Covid, we haven’t really had the time to find out if it’s working yet… ”
A new, new formula
“There were things to improve …” Nice understatement. Piqué has the meaning of the formula. “Some games ended very late and that’s why we decided to go from seven to eleven days (final in Madrid on Sunday 5 December) in several cities. The group matches take place this time at the end of the week, at times more accessible to spectators. We mature, we progress and that makes us happy. “
Still, the table has everything of a gas plant and that the format has definitely lost all its salt with matches in winning straight sets and a double that counts for butter when the score after the singles is 2-0… ” If there are international bodies that have the will, perhaps there are the means to find a formula spread over several years, with the same spirit as there was at the time? asks Grosjean. We will see in the future whether there is a possibility of going back to the old formula. “
Behind the scenes, we are campaigning for the return of “home-away” from 2022. “We obviously cannot control what is happening here, but we can act on the future, loose Leon Smith, the captain of Great Britain. We have to see what is best for the players, what to change. I think that a period of consultation will begin and that the ITF (the International Federation) and Kosmos will succeed in finding what is most suitable for the schedule… ”
Zverev, the white knight
Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, the two best players in the world, will be present to defend the colors of Serbia and Russia. Like the Russian Andrey Rublev (n ° 5), the Italian Jannik Sinner (n ° 10), the Briton Cameron Norrie (n ° 12) or the Spanish revelation Carlos Alcaraz (n ° 32). On the other hand, no Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer or Matteo Berrettini (injury), Stefanos Tsitsipas (no Greece), Félix Auger-Aliassime or Denis Shapovalov (dead end).
And above all, no Alexander Zverev, No. 3 at ATP and winner of the Masters last week. The German can be blamed for a lot on and off the pitch. But on this blow, the Olympic champion of Tokyo never deviated from his line of conduct. “I am someone of my word,” he blurted out. You have to change the current format. I didn’t play two years ago, I don’t play this year either. I want to win the Davis Cup, but the one I’ve known all my life… ”
And the Blues in all of this?
Whatever value it is now given, a title will be awarded on December 5. And at the end of a catastrophic season on the circuit, the French, whose two best ranked (Monfils and Humbert) are forfeited, are not among the favorites …
The Mahut-Herbert pair, in great shape, can make the difference in doubles provided that the mass is not already said after the singles, where the Tricolores will be three for two places: Richard Gasquet, Adrian Mannarino and Arthur Rinderknech with his tracksuit brand new blue-white-red flocked to the n ° 90, the 90th player called up in the history of the selection. No n ° 91 on the other hand for Hugo Gaston, who was finally excluded from the applicants on Wednesday but remains with the group until the end of the competition.