LILLE, France (Reuters) - Yannick Noah launched an impassioned attack on the imminent Davis Cup revamp after his third spell as France captain ended in defeat in the final by Croatia on Sunday.
Shortly after 24-year-old Lucas Pouille, whose defeat by Marin Cilic sealed France’s fate, said he was quitting the Davis Cup, Noah said the competition was disappearing in all but name.
“When people tell us it’s still going to be the Davis Cup, they are lying. I will tell them ‘you are liars’,” an emotional Noah told reporters.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has decided that from 2019, apart from February’s qualifying round, ‘home’ ties will be scrapped and the current World Group knockout format replaced by an 18-nation, one-week event to be staged in Madrid.
Best-of-five-set matches will also change to best-of-three.
The makeover is being backed to the tune of $3 billion over 25 years by Spanish investment firm Kosmos — a deal the ITF says will pump much-needed money into national federations.
Noah, who led France to Davis Cup glory in 1991 and 1996 in his first two spells as captain and again last year, said occasions like Sunday, when 22,000 fans produced an incredible atmosphere inside Lille’s Stade Pierre Mauroy, would be consigned to history.
“We talk about money but how much is it worth for the ballboy, who is from here, to shake the hand of Lucas Pouille and have a picture with him?” Noah told reporters.
“How much is that worth? How much is the dream in dollars? This will never happen again.
“So why don’t people tell the truth? It will never be the same. With all due respect, I really hope they don’t (continue to) call it the Davis Cup because this is not the Davis Cup.
“Playing two sets is not Davis Cup. Playing somewhere else is not Davis Cup.”
French doubles player Nicolas Mahut, who was also left unhappy about the changes to the competition’s format, was seen in a long discussion with David Haggerty, the ITF president, immediately after their defeat was confirmed.
“It was a message that I wanted to send him directly. I think he received it well,” he told reporters, while his partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert said it had been a sad day.
“I am extremely sad today about the decisions of the ITF,” said Herbert. “After, it may be a good competition, but it will never be what it has been, the Davis Cup.”
Noah, the last home player to win the men’s singles at the French Open in 1983, said he had also spoken to Haggerty at the pre-final dinner.
“I said I’m disgusted and upset to his face. It’s the truth. It’s the way I feel. Everyone has a right to feel differently but I feel I owe the Davis Cup because it means so much to me as a player, as a spectator.
“We have people who have decided it doesn’t matter, I don’t know if they don’t know, or they don’t care. But as I told the president I’m not from his world.”
On Saturday, Haggerty said the Davis Cup had to change to appeal to a greater television audience.
“We know that in France and Croatia this final is being followed by many consumers,” Haggerty told Reuters. “In the rest of the world, it’s not being followed to the same degree.
“This is where we see it turning into a proper World Cup of tennis with fans all around the world watching their 18 teams in one location and seeing it broadcast or streamed.”
Kosmos chief executive Javier Alonso, who has spearheaded the revamp alongside Spanish soccer international Gerard Pique, told Reuters: “We are in 2018 and if we look at 100 years ago tennis was something very different. Tennis has to evolve into a new era.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Ian Chadband