New Delhi, Sept. 8: In yet another modification in the Davis Cup format, the world governing body ITF has abolished the Group I and II at the regional level competition, making India's road to the Qualifiers even tougher.
From 2020, the Indian team will have to contend with superior European, South and North American nations in order to qualify. As of now, there are four Groups -- I, II, III, IV -- in each of the three zones which are Americas, Asia/Oceania, and European/Africa.
As per the new format, Group I and II will not be there from 2020 onwards and instead a 24-team World Group I and a 24-team World Group II will be formed. "It's interesting but obviously, it will be tougher for us. We were always dominant in Asia. The format needed a change so they did it but from India's perspective, every match will be tough," India's non-playing captain Mahesh Bhupathi told PTI, reacting to the development.
The 12 losing nations from the Qualifiers in March next year along with 12 winners from the newly-introduced World Group I Play-offs, will form the World Group I. The 12 losers from World Group I Play-offs and 12 winners of World Group II Play-offs will form the World Group II.
The Play-offs will be held alongside the Qualifiers in March 2020 and it continues to be home and away format in two-day ties. "The expanded structure, which follows extensive consultation with National Associations, will ensure more nations are able to compete on a worldwide basis, with more opportunities for home-and-away ties against a wider variety of opponents," the ITF said in a statement.
It is the second big change, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has brought about in Davis Cup after introducing the year-end Finals, where 18 teams will fight it out for the title at one place in one week, instead of competing on home and away format.
India has been a dominant force in Asia/Oceania Group I for many years as it has consistently reached the World Group Play-offs stage.
In the current format, the Indian team competes against the likes of Korea, New Zealand, China, Pakistan, Chinese Taipei, Lebanon and Uzbekistan, who do not have many top players to challenge India but with new format being introduced from 2020, it will not be an easy job for Bhupathi's team.
"When we were playing against New Zealand or Chinese Taipei or Pakistan, Indonesia or Philippines, we were expected to win but that luxury is not going to be there anymore," Bhupathi agreed.
Asked if the format required another change like this?, Bhupathi said only time will tell. "We have wait for about two years to see how the players respond to this. Right now, the players will accept it but we have to see if it works or not."
The line-up for the 2020 Davis Cup Qualifiers and the Play-offs in World Group I and II will be finalised after next week's regional Group I and Group II ties. India, though, will have to wait to see where it is positioned since its tie against Pakistan has already been postponed due to prevailing political tension between the neighbours.
There will be no change to the structure of Davis Cup Group III and Group IV, which will continue to be played as week-long regional events on a round-robin basis. "They are coming up with these changes because there is a lot of competition for the Davis Cup now. They want to make Davis Cup more appealing to the world. We have to see how it pans it. It's too early to say whether if it will bring Davis Cup back to limelight," said India's Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali.
"As far as India is concerned, it is definitely more tough now, going forward because as a country we do not have many top players. It affects us as a team. For us to do well now, we always need our top players available for the ties," he added.