Buoyed by the success of the multi-city format of this year's Davis Cup Finals, the 2022 edition of the men's team event will be held across five cities, the International tennis Federation said on Sunday.
This year's 18-nation competition was staged across three cities -- Madrid, Turin and Innsbruck -- and the Russian Tennis Federation and Croatia will meet in the final in the Spanish capital later on Sunday.
The 2022 Finals will see 16 nations competing in four groups across four cities with the top eight teams advancing to the knock-out stages in a neutral fifth host city, the ITF and event owners Kosmos Tennis said.
"For the group stages we envision all four of those being teams that are competing in the competition," ITF chief David Haggerty told Reuters, adding that the governing body expects to make a decision on the host cities in March.
"And then when we go to the Finals in the preferred city, that will be a neutral location."
Haggerty said the "preferred city", which will host the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final, will be confirmed in the next few weeks.
The 2022 Finals will start a day earlier and will be played over 12 days as the season-ending event on the men's tennis calendar.
The competition, which began in 1900, has undergone various changes in format, most recently in 2019 when home and away ties were replaced by a World Cup-style finals held in Madrid.
The move away from home and away ties played over the course of a year, culminating in a final staged at a venue of one of the competing teams, attracted widespread criticism.
"We had a lot of conversations with players, captains, different members of different teams, and I can assure you that all the feedback we got was great," Kosmos Tennis CEO Enric Rojas said on a virtual video call.
Haggerty said his organisation respected people's opinions.
"This is an evolution and I think next year just takes us one more step into kind of the World Cup of tennis. We're really, really excited," he said.
As 2021 finalists, Croatia and the Russian team have secured automatic qualification for the next Finals while Serbia and Britain were handed wildcards. Joining them will be the 12 winning teams from the 2022 qualifiers.
The Madrid finals in 2019 saw late finishes to matches and a lack of recovery time for players at the end of the season. There were also paltry crowds at some matches -- a far cry from the partisan crowds that were a trademark of Davis Cup ties.
Rojas said the 2021 Finals have been attended by more than 100,000 people despite restrictions on numbers and a ban on fans inside stadiums in Innsbruck due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"A five-city model will provide the flexibility of schedule needed, allow even more fans to enjoy the unique experience of Davis Cup and will secure the economic and commercial sustainability of the competition," Haggerty said.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond) ((email@example.com; +91 22 6841 4383; Twitter: @Sudipto_Reuters;))