Tennis news - Spain handed tough draw in new Davis Cup finals
Hosts Spain were handed a difficult draw as they were placed in what looks like by far the toughest group for this year's inaugural Davis Cup Finals at a ceremony in Madrid on Thursday.
Sergi Bruguera's team were drawn in Group B with defending Davis Cup champions Croatia and a Russia side packed with some of the fastest-rising players in the sport.
France, 2018 runners-up, face Serbia and Japan in Group A.
A drastic revamp of the 119-year-old team competition will culminate in a week-long event featuring 18 nations at Madrid's La Caja Magica from Nov. 18-24.
There is no place for Roger Federer's Switzerland, however, after they were knocked out in this month's qualifiers.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which owns the competition, was given the green light to go ahead with the controversial new format at a vote of member nations last year.
Partners Kosmos, a Spanish investment group founded by Barcelona and Spain footballer Gerard Pique, will invest $3 billion into the Davis Cup over 25 years.
At the draw ceremony Pique said the new format, which largely replaces the old "home and away" ties played throughout the year, would be a "festival of tennis".
Of the four other "seeded" teams, Argentina are in Group C with Germany and Chile, Belgium are joined in Group D by Australia and Colombia and Britain head Group E with Kazakhstan and the Netherlands. The United States, who have won more Davis Cup titles than any other nation, play Italy and Canada.
The six group winners and best two runners-up will go forward to the quarter-finals.
Individual ties will consist of two singles matches and one doubles match, all played on one day.
"We are very excited, we have been working on this for over a year now and we have a tremendous team of people involved," Pique said before several national captains picked balls out of a pot to reveal the nature of the groups.
"It's going to be a great opportunity we believe that not only will be seen on the courts themselves but the many activities that will be taking place with the federation. We're all working together to make this a true festival."
Asked why he got involved with the Davis Cup, Pique said: "When I was a kid I loved football and I loved tennis and in the end I decided football because I was better at it.
"But I saw Davis Cup as an opportunity and we believe we can create something very special."
The ITF has come under fire for meddling with the format and taking away the traditional "home" ties which create a partisan atmosphere unique in a mainly individual sport.
Australia captain Lleyton Hewitt recently said having the finals in one city was "ridiculous" and said Pique knew nothing about tennis, but ITF chief David Haggerty defended the partnership again at the draw.
"It's about tradition and innovation," he said. "We all care about Davis Cup but where we are going will elevate it and make it much better. Those people who are concerned about the changes should come to Madrid in November and see for yourself."
The big question now is whether or not the top players will support the Finals as the end-of-year slot is not ideal.
Some, such as Serbian world number one Novak Djokovic and Federer, have already said they would support the ATP Cup -- seen as a rival team event to the Davis Cup -- when it begins in Australia just a few weeks after the ITF's flagship event.
Spain will hope Rafael Nadal will lead their challenge.