There has always been a healthy number of team competitions scattered throughout the season on the professional tennis circuit and, despite a roaring approval from a portion of the fans, do they compare at all to the more high profile Grand Slams?
It will obviously depend on who you ask, as not everyone's definition of what constitutes a success is the same, but there is a general feeling, even if it isn’t universal, that a tennis tournament that is played as a team event can be a bit of a damp squib.
The Appealing Side Of Tennis As A Team Sport
Not all of tennis’ team events are a totally lost cause and, in many cases, they do get the pulses racing of the fans.
The Davis Cup, for instance, is backed by loud and vociferous crowds that flock to the stadium to support their respective countries. If you had to compare it to another sort of atmosphere in sport, golf’s Ryder Cup would be the equivalent.
There is something about team tournaments in sports that, for the majority of the season, are played in a fierce individual environment that seems to galvanize the crowd and players.
The normal etiquette in the stands goes out the window and instead of a polite, well-mannered set of spectators, players are met by a partisan and unforgiving mob that are baying for blood.
Well, the Davis Cup and, to a certain degree, the Fed Cup, are no different. The home fixtures of the smaller countries are particularly passionate affairs to witness with shock results often forthcoming.
As we see so often, a crowd that is really up for a sporting showdown makes the event hum and almost always spurs on the players to produce the unexpected, both savoury and unsavoury.
In that sense, tennis as a team sport works and has a vital part to play in the season. You can be absolutely sure that when the Davis Cup final is played in late November, there will be the same passionate atmosphere as the French try and defend their title.
And, at 4/5 to do it, they look well placed to beat the Croatians.
Current Attempt To Revive Tennis' Team Events
Despite having passionate crowds, tennis’ team sports have been in decline for the past few years, with talk of change been bandied about by the powers that be.
It was announced in August 2018 that the Davis Cup would undergo an overhaul that, plainly speaking, will make it unrecognisable.
The changes were made because there was a feeling that the Davis Cup took up too many weeks on the calendar and, in turn, was prohibiting the world's best players from taking part.
There has been a mixed response to the changes with top stars divided; Roger Federer expressed his disappointment, whereas Novak Djokovic was pleased.
The new system will see the home and away matches scrapped, with a neutral venue established and, instead of having to find four weeks in their schedule to play in the Davis Cup, players will now have the luxury of taking part in a week-long finale without the hassle of travel.
Normally, towards the back end of the season, there is only one thing in the minds of the world's top players and that's the Australian Open in January.
For a player like Djokovic, who is at 8/5 to win in Melbourne in the tennis betting, it presents a chance to get the season off to the right start and lay down a marker to the rest of the field. These changes may afford the big names a chance to give both events their time.
It’s obvious that the ITF member nations thought change was needed in order to save their beloved Davis Cup and make it more attractive to the public.
But, by doing so, they may have ripped out the heart and soul of the 118-year-old event. In reality, it’s a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If the Davis Cup were to stay how it was, the world's best players would continue to skip it.
However, by removing the home and away matches, the ITF have single-handedly destroyed the unique nature of an event that has been going for well over a century.
There is a real effort at the moment to make team tennis more watchable and now it appears that there will be yet another team tournament lined up in the shape of the revamped World Team Cup.
This will be a 24-team event that starts in 2020 but there’s no guarantee the top players in the world will add this to the schedule even if it will be a lucrative event, as it cuts the off-season to a mere five weeks.
It almost feels as if the team events are squeezed into the calendar as more of an obligation than anything else.
The 'Major' Difference
If you were to walk down the street and ask someone if Roger Federer had ever won a Davis Cup, you may be met with a blank stare but if you were to ask even the least-informed sports fan if Federer had won Wimbledon, you would probably get an instant answer.
Team events come in a very distant second to Grand Slams and that’s because winning a Davis Cup or Fed Cup doesn’t mean as much as winning a major.
At the end of a player's career, they aren't judged on how many team events they won but rather how many grand slams they retired on.
When you consider the career-long duel Federer and Nadal have had, the debate rages on as to who is the greatest. Any argument for or against is solely based on how many grand slams they have won and that’s why Federer is regarded by most as the greatest.
However, there can be no denying Nadal’s superiority on clay and, at EVENS to win the French Open next year, it looks like he will take one step closer to Federer’s record of 20 grand slams.
It is these storylines that capture the public's imagination which ultimately sets any Grand lam apart from a team event.
In turn, the coverage is a lot greater and more centred around Grand Slams as the narrative is one that the sponsors can get excited about.
The major difference between the success of team events as opposed to Grand Slams goes right back to the early beginnings of a player's career.
It’s a very lonely experience growing up as a tennis star destined for the greatest heights as you sacrifice a lot during what is a solo journey.
The world’s best tennis players today were conditioned from a young age to beat the individual on the other side of the nest in order to advance their career and personal prospects.
Apart from a good coach and some support from family, all the success players have enjoyed is because they did it by themselves, there was no team to rely on to get them there.
In that way, team tournaments in tennis are quite foreign to the best players in the world and their participation or lack of it at these events, says just about as much.
When all is said and done, a player is going to do what’s right for them and them alone. Winning a Grand Slam is about as hard as it gets, especially if you have been unfortunate enough to have played at the same time as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic.
The players know that and give more of their time to the Grand Slam majors than anything else.
That is essentially why these team events, as passionately supported as they are, won’t ever be as successful as the playing of Grand Slams. Fans, pundits, and the media want to see the greatest exhibit their skills and to do so in tennis, you have to be playing in Grand Slams for that to be truly recognised.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*