Madrid: Gerard Pique boldly describes the inaugural edition of the revamped Davis Cup as a ‘new era for tennis’ but amidst all the glitz and glamour in Madrid’s La Caja Majica, there was only gloom for reigning champions Croatia on Monday.
Without their injured talisman Marin Cilic and with the team in upheaval after captain Zeljko Krajan was axed two days before their opening tie they drubbed 3-0 by Russia.
Borna Gojo lost to Andrey Rublev, Borna Coric was edged out by Karen Khachanov and they could not even manage a consolation point as Khachanov and Rublev combined to beat Ivan Dodig and Nikola Mektic in the doubles.
To make matters worse, the tie took place in a cavernous 12,000-seat arena with little of the fabled Davis Cup atmosphere Croatia could have relied on in either Zagreb or Split.
And to rub salt into their wounds, they will almost certainly need to beat Rafael Nadal’s Spain in their second Group B tie on Wednesday to reach the knockout phase.
It was a bit different 12 months ago when Cilic fired Croatia to victory over France in a deafening din in Lille’s soccer stadium.
That was the last final before radical changes to the historic team event, voted in by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in 2018 in association with Barcelona soccer player Pique’s investment firm Kosmos, came into effect.
The ITF has come under fire for meddling with the unique “home and away” format and replacing it with a soccer World Cup-style event featuring 18 nations, in one city, battling over seven days to be crowned champions.
Kosmos are pumping $3 billion (Dh11.01 billion) into the ITF’s coffers over 25 years and no expense was spared on Monday’s lavish opening ceremony which featured a spectacular light show, dancers, drummers, violinists and an ear-pummelling DJ set.