Gerard Piqué says revamped Davis Cup is ‘project of my life’ | Sport

It is a wonder Gerard Piqué can accommodate all his activities in any 24-hour day. Or answer his phone. When we finally get around to talking after a few false starts he is voluble and polite and determined to make the revamped Davis Cup in Madrid next week a success, whatever the sceptics say.

This past week Piqué trained and played with Barcelona (against Cartagena to raise money for flood relief in the Mercia region), kept an eye on the assets of his global investment company as well as prepared for the “project of my life”, the relaunch of the oldest team event in international sport.

Since Piqué and the newly formed Kosmos Tennis pledged $3bn over 25 years last February to a “World-Cup-style” format for the creaking old competition in its 119th year, it has rumbled awkwardly towards this moment, a gathering of the 18 best teams in the world. It will be either a pivotal moment in tennis history or a washout. The odds are even but Piqué, who could find light in a coal hole, is reassuringly upbeat.

He might raise his voice in the centre of Barcelona’s defence now and again, having done so 102 times for Spain in a glittering international career as well as in a youthful spell at Manchester United, but he is even-tempered and persuasive around a negotiating table, according to those who know him well. If anyone can bring sanity to the confusion that has engulfed tennis, it might be Piqué.

For months he talked with Chris Kermode, whose six-year tenure as executive chairman and president of the ATP comes to a premature end next month. At times they were close to striking a deal that would heal the rift between the ATP and the ITF. “They speak the same language,” says an insider.

However, there was not a similar rapport between Kermode and the ITF’s David Haggerty, the American who was recently returned to his post as president. Piqué, who also has a warm relationship with Haggerty, is more conciliatory. He understands it is not ideal to have two international team events six weeks apart – the Davis Cup and the ATP’s new team event, which starts in Australia in early January. Something has to give, he acknowledges.

That is not a view shared by some on the “other side”. Boris Becker said in London this week in advocacy of the merits of the ATP Cup (he is Germany’s captain): “Tennis is in a very good place right now. The fact that we have so many new competitions speaks for the interests, speaks for the image and the quality of the players we have.”

Sign up to The Recap, our weekly email of editors’ picks.

Viewed from the outside, it is a shouting match in an alleyway between two diametrically opposed governing bodies touting for trade among the game’s elite performers. So far the players have shared their favours liberally. That might not always be the case.

As Piqué told the Observer: “I don’t know if there is room in tennis for both events or not. History says both events will happen. But I have always said our idea is to open the door with the ATP to arrive at a deal. I think that this is the logical step for the future. We have tried very hard in the past year with them.

“It was difficult to arrive to a deal because there were rumours that Mr Kermode was leaving, that he would not continue. Now we know that next year there will be a new president of the ATP [the Italian Andrea Gaudenzi]. I think that this will give us another opportunity to sit down and try to write a deal. This is the best thing for the future of tennis. This is our main objective. It doesn’t depend only on us. This is why I cannot assure you of anything. But it is the next step that we want to take.”

Piqué, a keen and accomplished tennis player when young, chose football, breaking through at Barcelona in 1997. At 32 he plays from match to match, season to season, not unlike his 33-year-old Spanish friend Rafael Nadal, who opted for tennis over football and whose uncle, Miguel Angel, won notoriety as the Beast Of Barcelona.

“Right now my thoughts are that every year has to be my last year. I want to dedicate as much as I can to football. I want to end my career in the best way possible. I don’t know if it will be one more year, two more years, five more years. But I am happy at Barcelona.

“When I left my friends there to spend four years at Manchester United [in 2004, a month before they signed Wayne Rooney], it was tough. At the same time that was a great experience for me. I grew up a lot there. I am who I am because of the period I had at Manchester United, even though I didn’t play as much as I wanted to. But in my position there were two centre-backs who were among the top three in the world at the time [Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic]. But being at home, and having the career I have had at home, has been a great pleasure and I am very proud of it.”

But this week it is all tennis. “I meet a lot with Rafa,” Piqué says. “He will be in the tournament for so many reasons. He’s one of the best players in the history of the game. Also, it is in Madrid. With Rafa, Spain has more possibilities to win the Cup. Since day one he supported the format.

“I played both sports when I was young. I decided in the end on football. I think my decision wasn’t bad at all. I am very happy with the life I chose. I play tennis as much as I can. I obviously don’t have much time.” Obviously.

Source link

‘He’s like Malcolm Marshall’ – Gavaskar, Gambhir hail India pacer as world’s best red-ball bowler – cricket

Simon Smith: Mum recalls baby’s murder 25 years on