By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – The Fed Cup’s existing format will be scrapped next year when a 12-nation Finals week will be staged in Budapest in April, the International Tennis Federation confirmed on Thursday.
The move follows a revamp of the men’s Davis Cup which will culminate in an 18-nation event in Madrid in November.
At a news conference held at Queen’s Club it was confirmed that Budapest’s Laszlo Papp Sports Arena would host the women’s team event until 2022.
There will be an $18 million prize fund for the Finals with $12 million for players and the rest for national associations, the ITF said.
Four nations, this year’s finalists France and Australia, hosts Hungary and one wildcard, will be exempted through to the Finals with the other eight coming through playoffs in February.
ITF president David Haggerty said it would create a “festival of tennis”.
The move is likely to divide opinion, as the Davis Cup changes did, with former world number one Simona Halep saying this week that she would not be interested in playing if the “home and away” ties were scrapped.
However, the fact the Finals will be staged in April on clay should suit players’ calendars with the European claycourt season about to get into full swing.
The move will also suit nations who have found themselves unable to break into the eight-nation World Group. Twenty nations will now effectively be playing at the elite level of the competition every year.
From 2020 the 12 nations in the Finals will play in a round-robin format, with four groups of three teams, followed by semi-finals and a final.
The two finalists will be guaranteed a place in the following year’s Finals, while the nations finishing third to 10th will contest the following year’s qualifiers.
Matches will consist of two singles and one doubles.
ITF president David Haggerty said the changes, approved by the ITF Board after consultation with the national associations and WTA Tour, would take the event to a new level while “remaining loyal to the historic core of the Fed Cup”.
“We have consulted and listened to stakeholders and worked with the WTA and its Player Council to make sure the new format represents the interests of the players,” he said.
Fed Cup Global Ambassador Billie Jean King, part of the American team who won the first Fed Cup in 1963, said the changes will elevate the profile of the competition.
“These reforms are historic as they reflect the ITF’s commitment to unlocking the Fed Cup’s huge potential,” she said on Thursday. “Hosting a competition with prize money deserving of the world’s best women’s tennis teams and players.”
The 16 nations who will compete for places in the Finals in February are: Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the U.S.
The 2020 Fed Cup champions will receive $3.2 million for the players and $1.2 million for the association.
This year’s final between Australia and France in Perth will be the last staged on “home” soil.
Australian Sam Stosur has mixed feelings about the changes.
“I see it from both sides,” she told Reuters.
“The one week, one location can be good, but the home and away ties are amazing. Even ties we have had away and when we’ve not had anyone cheering for us whatsoever have been some of my best moments on the court.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)