Costume-wearing fans, boisterous crowds, exciting matches. Some old traditions were preserved when the revamped Davis Cup began a new era in Madrid.
It wasn’t all perfect, though, with Gerard Pique, Barcelona player and co-founder of Kosmos — the group that spent $A4.4 billion on a 25-year deal to makeover the longstanding tournament — taking to Twitter to defend the revolution on opening day.
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Changes to the Davis Cup had already been met with some opposition in the lead-up, so criticism was to be expected on the first day of action, which saw Russia, Croatia, Belgium, Canada, Italy, and Colombia compete.
One-time French Open semi-finalist, and now writer Dewulf Filip took to Twitter to highlight the empty seats prior to Belgium v Colombia.
“Not the biggest crowd…yet. 15 people sitting on this side of the stands,” Filip tweeted.
Of all people, it was Pique who hit back; keen to quell any criticism.
“Are we sure there are just 15??” Pique asked, along with a photo of a full stadium.
Current pro Alize Cornet replied: “Dear Gerard, I can see that you’ve never been to a REAL Davis Cup! And that’s not it.”
The Times’ tennis correspondent Stuart Fraser was in Madrid, and detailed some up-and-down atmospheres on a day, it must be said, that didn’t feature the biggest stars in international tennis.
Fraser also added: “Adverts for Shakira’s [Pique’s wife] world tour occupying one of the prime slots behind the baseline.”
Nevertheless, as the 18-team Davis Cup Finals got underway in its new weeklong World Cup-style format at the “Magic Box” tennis complex, fans were encouraged to provide atmosphere, and those in attendance delivered.
The Croatian marching band roused the centre court.
Drum-beating Canadian fans lit up Stadium 2.
Dressed-up Belgians kept the crowd going in Stadium 3.
Umpires were made to work hard at all the courts by constantly asking for the fans to stay quiet before points.
The teams are playing only two singles and a doubles in each tie, with the group winners advancing to the knockout stage laterin the week.
The crowds were decent in numbers during the first matches, but the centre court was mostly empty for the opening ceremony that featured an audiovisual show and performances by artists Alan Walker and Farruko. Shakira will perform in the closing ceremony on Sunday, all part of the modernisation being promoted by the new organisers.
The goal is to make the traditional team competition more attractive – and lucrative – by having all nations play at the same time and in a single venue.
The change helped attract new sponsors and made it easier for top players to include the Davis Cup in their busy schedules. Prize money of nearly $20 million in total, rivalling those awarded in Grand Slams, also helped to attract players.
Critics, including some players, complained the new format would take away from the great partisan atmospheres seen in the head-to-head confrontations that were played out over four weekends through the year, for 119 years.
But it was a good start for the new finals, and the crowd atmosphere should ramp up on Tuesday when host Spain debuts with the top-ranked Rafael Nadal. Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Britain’s Andy Murray will be playing on Wednesday.
Russia 3 Croatia 0
Singles Andrey Rublev (RUS) bt Borna Gojo (CRO) 6-3, 6-3 Karen Khachanov (RUS) bt Borna Coric (CRO)6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-4
Doubles Karen Khachanov/Andrey Rublev (RUS) bt Ivan Dodig/Nikola Mektic (CRO) 7-6 (7/3), 6-4
Belgium 2 Colombia 1
Singles Steve Darcis (BEL) bt Santiago Giraldo (COL) 6-3, 6-2 David Goffin (BEL) bt Daniel Elahi Galan Riveros (COL) 3-6, 6-3, 6-3
Doubles Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah (COL) bt Sander Gille/Joran Vliegen (BEL) 6-7 (5/7), 6-4, 7-6 (7/3)
Canada 2 Italy 1
Singles Vasek Pospisil (CAN) bt Fabio Fognini (ITA) 7-6 (7/5), 7-5 Denis Shapovalov (CAN) bt Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/5)
Doubles Matteo Berrettini/Fabio Fognini (ITA) bt Vasek Pospisil/Denis Shapovalov (CAN) 6-2, 3-6, 6-3