Written by: Crina Mustafa
The quarterfinals of the “World Cup” of tennis begin November 21 in Malaga, Spain, featuring defending champions Team Canada. This year’s team will feature Felix Auger-Aliassime, Milos Raonic, Gabriel Diallo, Alexis Galarneau, and Vasek Pospisil.
“We associate tennis as an individual sport, which it is, but this is one of the few times in the year where it feels like players are competing for more than themselves,” said Ben Lewis, co-host of Match Point Canada, Tennis Canada’s official podcast.
A veteran Canadian tennis journalist, Lewis has seen the progression of Team Canada at the Davis Cup, the top international team event in men’s tennis. First created in 1900, the annual event saw over 150 countries compete in 2023. After competing for 89 years, Canada won for the first time.
But the tournament doesn’t always get the attention of the sports media. “I think the buzz will come. I'm not sure that it has fully arrived yet, “ said Lewis. “Still, at least for Canada, I think the fact that they're going into this event for the first time as defending world champions lends to some hype and generates some excitement because it was such a breakthrough moment when they won.”
Lewis believes Canada returns a strong team heading into their quarterfinal matchup against Finland. Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and Toronto’s Milos Raonic, making his return to the team after being absent since 2018, keep Canada as a favourite to repeat as champions, and draw more interest from fans of the event and the sport itself.
“Now, all around, the belief is that we belong there,” Roanic said in a post match press conference after Canada’s advancement to the Final 8.
So, how popular is the Davis Cup? According to the tournament’s website, over 95,000 people attended the Group Stage held in four venues over six days earlier this year. Capacity crowds were on hand for ties in Manchester, Valencia and Bologna. These weren’t football stadium-sized crowds – mainly between 7,500 and 13,000 fans – but they indicate a healthy niche market for the event in Europe. Web site page views were up 16% from the year before, totalling 7.1 million.
“My first Davis Cup was in 1990 as a ball kid,” says Gavin Ziv, the recently named CEO of Tennis Canada. Ziv has been with the organization for 25 years and has overseen the Davis Cup during his time with Tennis Canada.
Ziv has witnessed the tournament grow from a niche audience to an event that created big TV deals with Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada and Eurosport worldwide. He says a big key to the tournament’s growth has been who is willing to host the tournament in their city.
“It’s a great storyline,” he says. “Bringing sport into a market for the first time, there's tourism with that as well. So with that, we're coming to town with big groups, the competing countries. There are lots of hotel rooms, lots of things we do in the city.”
As more cities host the Davis Cup, the prize money is substantial, too. The players follow the ITF model, so prizing depends on how far you make it into the tournament. Ziv said that when Team Canada won the Davis Cup last year, the prize money was a couple of million dollars (USD). According to DavisCup.com this year’s winner is expected to take home $2.1M.
Lewis explains that this is great for the younger players on the team, who can use that money to maintain their own costs on the expensive ATP Tour. Although players benefit from succeeding, federations can lose money hosting the event, according to Ziv. The growth and success of a country’s team seem to be the key to fixing that issue.
Ziv mentioned that when Canada won last year, Tennis Canada used the extra money to put it back into the sport and work on some initiatives to celebrate, including a cross-country tour of the Davis Cup trophy.
Players will be competing for prize money and national pride in Malaga. Some 110 years after its first appearance in the Davis Cup, and in its 90th competition of the Tennis World Cup, Canada faces Finland on November 21. The winner will meet the winner of the Czechia-Australia tie. This year’s champion will be decided on November 26. For Canada, it could be a $weet repeat.