Davis Cup had no choice but to change: Woodforde
THE 118-year-old Davis Cup competition had to adapt or face extinction as the majority of tennis playing nations grew sick of the vast travel and time it increasingly took up says Australian tennis legend Mark Woodforde.
Woodforde, a board representative with the sport's governing body the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said changes - shorter sets played across two days and not three - which will be implemented this week in Adelaide where Australia face Bosnia/Herzegovina, were a no-brainer.
"All my matches were in the old (five-set) format and it didn't affect me in any major way but unfortunately that format wasn't working," Woodforde said.
"It will be felt here in Australia because it is something we all coveted. We have no problem travelling the world (to play)."
Living in Australia means its players are used to, and accept, long-haul travel as part of the sport he said. But Australia is increasingly alone.
"So many other players are not prepared to do that," he said.
"I am disappointed we have to change the format, but, it hasn't been working for the majority of countries that play as a team. We have to accept that."
Australia has won the competition 28 times, just behind the USA with the Davis Cup fundamental to promoting and encouraging Australians to play tennis he said.
"You are playing as an individual during the season and I think Australian sporting history has been based on team competition," he said.
"The Davis Cup defined us as a tennis nation and hopefully it still will even with the format changes."
The historic event is facing serious competition from the newly formed, inter nation ATP Cup which will begin in Australia next January and comes as the sport's arguably most revered figure, Rod Laver, last week lamented that the Davis Cup was "on its last legs".
Its new format will see the teams of five players contest five matches over two days (two singles on day one, with doubles and two reverse singles on day two). All matches will contested over three tie-break sets.
The Adelaide winner will play in the season ending Davis Cup finals in Madrid this November with 17 other nations.
South Australian Woodforde played twice in the competition in Adelaide, against the Czech Republic in 1997 and against Germany in the 2000 quarter-finals, Australia winning both ties.
"We played on grass at the Next Generation end of Memorial Drive. Against Germany, Australia started favourite. They were strong but we had grass and the crowd support," he said.
"I played doubles with Pat Rafter, we started well for two sets but just lost our way. I think I played with Pat a couple of times, it was an adjustment."
The lack of consistency from the often brilliant Rafter caught him by surprise, invariably playing with Todd Woodbridge, he was used to quality returns every time Woodforde said.
"Sometime Pat went through patches when you don't get the ball, the returns were very different to Todd's," he said. "We squeezed it in the fifth set, probably just our experience and the support."
Woodforde recalled the now notorious Australia decision to play a home in tie in Mildura, Victoria in 1998.
"The idea was to take it out to the country areas but it flopped against Zimbabwe in Mildura," he said.
"We played on grass, it would have been our choice."
Zimbabwe's Wayne and Byron Black had just come off playing on grass and were red hot he said.
"It ended up not being the best choice for us. It put a stop to us choosing to play in the remote areas," he said.
Woodforde meanwhile welcomed the introduction to the Australian squad this week of 19-year-old Alexei Popyrin who knocked over No.7 seed Dominic Thiem in reaching the last 32 of this month's Australian Open.
"I was introduced to Alexei a couple of years ago at Roland Garros (French Open). Pat Cash and I were out hitting together. Then came along this kid, I didn't know who he was," Woodforde said.
"He said 'meet Alexei Popyrin', he's a junior'. I didn't realise that because of his height (now 196cm). I have been quietly following his progress.
"He's based in the south of France at the Mouratoglu academy. I am a big believer in lots of players from Australia trying to play on clay.
"He is a different type of player to what Australia has, he has got weapons on the serve, forehand and backhand. He will put pressure on (number on player) Alex de Minaur in that he plays very differently."
Indeed despite Popyrin's debut call-up and relatively lowly ranking at 124, Woodforde would not be surprised to see him get a game this weekend.
"Whether you play in the Davis Cup is not always based on your ranking, rankings do go out of the window when players are representing their country. There have been great upsets over the years based on rankings," he said.
"It's based on form coming into it and how he handles practice with Lleyton and Rochey (Tony Roche)."
Of the 133 nations contesting the 2019 Davis Cup, Australia is ranked nine and Bosnia/Herzegovina 27.