With Rafael Nadal falling flat on his back on the baseline, his triumphant team-mates running on court to pile on top of him and a partisan home stadium rocking with pride, it was a familiar scene as Spain lifted the Davis Cup.Yet, while the celebrations were similar to many we have seen in previous years, the host nation’s first success since 2011 came at the end of a very different week in Madrid.
Unlike in the past, Spain’s victory over Canada was not the only Davis Cup tie to take place in November as the tournament culminated. Instead it was the end of an 18-nation finals self-styled as the ‘World Cup of Tennis’.The football-style knockout tournament, a bold concept conceived and financially backed by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique and his Kosmos investment group, faced a barrage of criticism before it had even started.
And, as with any new event, especially one of such size and stature, there were teething problems in the Spanish capital.But there were also many memorable moments in what proved to be a high-quality tournament on the court.Here, BBC Sport analyses what worked in the new-look finals, what perhaps didn’t and the lessons that must be learned before next year’s event.
For years, the common consensus had been the 119-year competition needed to change.Top players, worried about burn out on the punishing ATP Tour, were regularly not turning out to play in a 16-team world group that saw home and away ties spread over four weekends throughout the year.
Pique, a tennis fan said to have been a promising junior player, was the catalyst for change.But his intervention, and the changing of a tradition which had existed in the previous format since 1981, was not welcomed by tennis die-hards, including the most recognisable player on the planet.
Swiss great Roger Federer resisted the change and urged that the competition should not become the “Pique Cup”.While the 20-time Grand Slam champion was not present in Madrid after Switzerland failed to qualify three of the other ‘Big Four’ did play.
Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were the star names present as 11 of the world’s top 20 singles players also appeared at the event. Russian world number four Daniil Medvedev and German world number seven Alexander Zverev were the only members of the world’s top 10 who pulled out in spite of their nations qualifying.
The presence of so many key players was seen as an encouraging sign by Pique and ITF chief David Haggerty.“When we started a few years ago with the project of the new format, what we wanted basically was that the top players participate in the competition. I think that was a fact,” Pique said.
“You saw here the top players playing and representing their countries.”Whether that will continue to be the case largely depends if a merger with January’s 24-nation ATP Cup – created by the men’s tour and attracting all the top-ranked players except Federer – can ever be agreed to avoid a situation where two men’s team events take place within close proximity of each other.
World number one Nadal tore around the Caja Magica as he won all eight of his singles and double rubbers to inspire the Spanish.Novak Djokovic along with the entire Serbia team were left close to tears following a dramatic quarter-final loss to Russia. In an emotional news conference post match, Djokovic’s doubles partner Viktor Troicki – who played a woeful third-set tie-break – said he felt “the worst ever” after been given the chance to “be the hero, only for God to take it away”.
Former world number one Andy Murray was contorted with nervous emotion as he watched his older brother Jamie and Neal Skupski try to put their nation into the final by beating Nadal and Feliciano Lopez in a decisive doubles rubber.
And try telling Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut, who was left in tears after winning his singles rubber against Canada three days after the death of his father, that representing his country was still not of significant pride and honour.
Fears the emotion could be sucked out of the competition proved wide of the mark, although it remains to be seen what a finals weekend without the host nation competing would look like.
Culled from BBCSports