Neutral venue possible for Davis Cup final

The International Tennis Federation is considering playing future Davis Cup finals at a neutral venue.

ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti told The Associated Press on Sunday that the idea is among several proposed changes to the competition, along with fifth-set tiebreakers to prevent marathon matches.

“We are considering perhaps to have the final in a neutral venue,” he said. “We considered many changes, small changes within these big basic principles that you want to defend.”

Under the current system, hosting of Davis Cup matches alternates, with the host of the previous encounter between two teams becoming the traveling team for their next meeting – even if it’s the final.

Any changes to the format of the Davis Cup or the women’s Fed Cup would need to be approved by the ITF’s annual general meeting in September before possibly being introduced next year.

Fifth-set tiebreakers will “come very soon,” Ricci Bitti said. That would prevent matches such as last month’s encounter between Argentina’s Leandro Mayer and Brazil’s Joao Souza, which lasted almost seven hours, with the fifth set ending 15-13.

“Tennis is becoming really competitive, the matches are very long and I believe we cannot go against the times,” Ricci Bitti said.

However, Ricci Bitti said he would not accept any changes to key principles, including playing the Davis Cup annually and the right of national federations to pick the teams.

The Davis Cup has come in for criticism over top players choosing to skip the competition, including Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, who chose not to defend their title this year, but Ricci Bitti said the ITF was doing all it could to tempt big names to compete.

“Tennis is becoming much more demanding. Today, at this level, it’s very difficult to play two days in a row,” he said. “We have to accept that some player will be missing. In spite of the difficulties of our format and the home and away, we have 90 percent participation, so we’re very happy.”

Ricci Bitti also defended tennis’ anti-doping program, which is overseen by the ITF and involved 3,529 tests last year. In recent years, star players such as Andy Murray and Roger Federer have asked for more testing.

For 2013, the last year for which the ITF has published data, it spent $1.54 million on the fight against doping, less than the winner’s prize money in singles at any of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

“Quantity doesn’t mean quality. The program in anti-doping has to be very focused and I’m proud to say the tennis program is one of the best,” he said, adding that “there could be a little bit more” testing.

The ITF has the right to retest samples for a period of eight years. This has been used in other Olympic sports in the past to catch drug cheats from past years using modern technology, but Ricci Bitti said the ITF very rarely used its right to reopen samples.

“We retain all our testing and we can retest,” he said. “I believe in sports like the Olympics, this has some value because it’s one competition every four years, but we test the players continuously, so it’s not so important.”

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