Love it or hate it, let's give the new Davis Cup format a chance

The radically restructured Davis Cup competition launched last weekend and, in the eyes of some, it had one discernible flaw: It was not Davis Cup as we've known it.

That isn't much of a shortcoming, given that the 118-year-old competition is finished. Kaput. It will never be revived, even if Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk takes a shine to it. It's clearly time to move on, although that is proving difficult for many who still cling to the memories of ties past.

Mere hours before the start of play last weekend, Lleyton Hewitt -- already in pre-tie lockdown with the Australian squad in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- continued to fume about the changes made to the Davis Cup format, calling them "ridiculous."

Yet there he was, in Aussie green and gold, preparing his squad to join in making history as Davis Cup 2.0 approached lift off.

It turned out to be a successful road trip for Hewitt and his minions, leading the Aussies (along with 11 other qualifiers) in the 18-team World Group that will contest the final in November in Madrid (six teams avoided the qualifying round on merit or as wild cards). Four traditional powers besides Australia (Sweden, Germany, Serbia and Italy) were also obliged to qualify. Among them, only Sweden failed to advance.

Traditionalists may still bemoan this makeover, but the weekend ties were satisfying and competitive. Moreover, they produced the familiar, beloved Davis Cup atmospherics. The manufacturers of drums, whistles and multi-colored wigs need not fear a recession in their industry.

The old format was beloved because the nationalistic subtext had a way of inspiring underdogs to superhuman feats, like John Isner's upset of Roger Federer on clay seven years ago. It's a story Isner will tell his kids, who may or may not believe him. The weekend coughed up a few of those cherished overnight heroes.

Take Santiago Giraldo. He's Colombia's most successful singles player (27-13 in 28 ties over 13 years), but he's never won squat. Six times before, Colombia had been on the brink of qualifying for the elite World Group only to stall. But in this, its 51st year of Davis Cup competition, the team finally punched through with a win at home against Sweden. Playing No. 2, Giraldo (ATP singles ranking: 259) won both his singles matches before a standing-room only crowd in Bogota.

Giraldo described the atmosphere as "fantastic."

At the other end of the age spectrum, Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime (Remember the name; the 18-year-old sensation is a huge talent) withstood the pressures of a road game as he convincingly clinched a critical fifth rubber in Bratislava against Slovakia's Norbert Gombos.

Those wins resonate even more than they might have in the past because, in the past, Colombia and Canada might have survived in the playoffs round only to get blown out a few weeks later in the first-round of World Group knockout play. But they've punched their tickets to the finals in Madrid. As fans of the annual NCAA national basketball championships say, "They're going to the big dance."

"This is really amazing for us," Canada's captain Frank Dancevic told the ITF. "It's an exciting new format, and we're really going to enjoy representing our country at the finals. In my eyes, it's like the World Cup or the Olympics of tennis where everything is in one spot, so it's really exciting for us to be there."

All right, it sounds like a canned quote. But come on, traditionalists, how can you resist that? And tell me the prospect of a Canada team featuring Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov isn't a tantalizing draw. Top player participation remains a big question, but now that Serbia has advanced, will Novak Djokovic have a good reason in the eyes of his countrymen to skip the event?

Shortly after Australia advanced, former Davis Cup player and Australian Open tournament director Paul McNamee tweeted: "Call it World Cup, Piquet Cup or Egg Cup ... but it ain't Davis Cup."

No, it ain't. At least not Davis Cup as we knew it. But if we give this re-iteration a chance, it might just develop into something equally prized.