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Tennis divided over 'World Cup' proposal -

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The tennis world is divided over plans to shake up the game and start a tennis 'World Cup'. Former
AFL star James Hird is the man behind the concept which plans to attract more fans to the game and
make more money. Hird says his vision of a 'World Cup' of tennis will help the sport, citing the
success of 2020 cricket.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: As tennis players continue to vie for glory at the Australian Open this
week, some marketing representatives are quietly working the corridors in search of support for
what they see as a bold new vision for the game: a World Cup of tennis has been put on the table by
a man better known for his AFL skills. But former Essendon champion James Hird says his company has
been working on the concept for more than 15 months and has already discussed it with the sport's
governing body. Traditionalists fear the newcomer could derail the century-old Davis Cup
tournament. But in his first on-camera interview, James Hird has told Mary Gearin that a tennis
World Cup could capture a new, younger audience without threatening the traditional game.

JAMES HIRD, MARKETING CONSULTANT: Dynamic, exciting. We're proposing a tennis World Cup. Similar to
a football World Cup. Or a rugby World Cup. You've got 32 nations from all around the world focused
and playing the tournament in one venue. Bringing the whole world and the eyes of the world into a
nations-based tennis event.

MARY GEARIN, REPORTER: In terms of world tennis, the mild mannered businessman talking up a big new
concept has come from nowhere. This is in fact James Hird, former AFL champion player and captain
for Essendon, just two years into his retirement. What people might not know is he's been working
for several years as an international marketing consultant and now he's wanting to transform
another sport with his vision of a World Cup of tennis.

JAMES HIRD: Can we do something that creates even more fans, which creates more money, which means
more money goes back into the sport, which means more kids play tennis and tennis gets bigger and
bigger. Sort of a loop. And that's been the example with Twenty20 cricket. I mean, Twenty20 cricket
has not killed Test cricket. It's still a fantastic sport. But what it's done is it's brought in a
whole new consumer and actually helped cricket in the end.

MARY GEARIN: Hird is a co-partner in Gemba, an international entertainment marketing company. In
this case, their client is tennis and he wants his company to be a matchmaker between players,
authorities, TV networks, sponsors and investors to create a biennial tournament with a new,
snappier format.

JAMES HIRD: If you go run a tennis World Cup over 10 days, then you can't have mens' ties that go
for three or four hours. What we're saying is we're removing the advantage, so deuce point and the
next point is the winning point and the tiebreakers are really down to the best of fives. There's a
nine-point tiebreak. So what that allows is that the game is reduced to about two hours and 20
minutes. At its maximum, it's two hours and 20 minutes. So this is over 10 days with three players
allowed to play within one match, still a five-set match, but the players can be substituted on or
off as the coach likes.

MARY GEARIN: Gemba representatives have been working quietly around the circuit for about 15 months
and for the rest of the week they'll continue to talk to players involved in the Australian Open.
Already a few top players have spoken in support of the concept, but it's drawn flak from
self-proclaimed traditionalists and sceptics

PAT CASH, TENNIS CHAMPION: Am I old-fashioned, at 44? I don't think so. I just like the pure form
of the game of tennis.

MARY GEARIN: So you think this is a gimmick?

PAT CASH: Um, I'm wondering whether it's just drummed-up publicity.

MARY GEARIN: Pat Cash doesn't like talk about format changes to tennis either, in particular the
talk of substitution.

PAT CASH: The biggest load of rubbish I've ever heard of my life. Subbing, doing all this sort of
stuff. It's moving down the way of the Harlem Globetrotters.

JOHN NEWCOMBE, TENNIS CHAMPION: What I read was being proposed, it's not gonna get through. You
know, the International Tennis Federation is made up of countries all over the world and then it's
not gonna say, "Oh, yeah, that's a good idea, we'll do it." It's not that easy.

BUD COLLINS, TENNIS COMMENTATOR: If they were to establish this, it would affect the Davis Cup. And
so I think, I hope that some sort of compromise can be made, because I think the name Davis Cup
should be kept in the forefront.

MARY GEARIN: Davis Cup champion Pat Cash thinks players might be saying yes to the World Cup idea
because the year-long schedule for the Davis Cup, where players also represent their country, is
simply so demanding.

PAT CASH: I think top players are spoilt. Not all of them. But they are spoilt for money, they're
spoilt for choices. They say - you can't fit the tennis into - the Davis Cup into their schedule.
Well I would say stop playing exhibition matches.

MARY GEARIN: Some top players have been increasingly selective about their Davis Cup involvement.
America's James Blake and Andy Roddick and Britain's Andy Murray have all pulled out of upcoming
ties, citing scheduling or injury worries. And networks in the US and UK are dropping their
coverage. Long time tennis correspondent Neil Harman believes the World Cup concept will be widely
welcomed in the community.

NEIL HARMAN, TENNIS CORRESPONDENT, THE TIMES: In its current position, players who have got more
interest, let's say, in the grand slam scheme of things are saying now Davis Cup is a bit too much
of a burden. And whereas it still remains a great competition, I don't think anyone is looking to
kill it off. People are looking to refine it, to modernise it. But if the top players aren't
playing in it, that's got to be a concern for people in the sport.

MARY GEARIN: How could it not compromise the Davis Cup if it will attract top players to playing
that tournament, which would be essentially quick and easy compared with the Davis Cup?

JAMES HIRD: Well I suppose it's how it fits in with the Davis Cup, whether it's part of the Davis
Cup, whether it's not, and I can't answer that question until we work out where it is in the
calendar and how it fits into the tennis schedule.

MARY GEARIN: So there's a possibly the Davis Cup could be a feeder competition or something like

JAMES HIRD: Oh, not at the moment. There's not that possibly because the ITF would not - I wouldn't
think would accept that as happening. But time will tell how it works in the tennis calendar.

MARY GEARIN: James Hird says he's not seeking to form a breakaway event. On the contrary, the
company's already met with the International Tennis Federation, the sport's governing body.

Has the ITF actually been receptive?

JAMES HIRD: The ITF hasn't been totally negative towards it. But, I mean, they're very concerned
about their own tournament and they wouldn't want to see something like this upset Davis Cup, which
is totally understandable.

MARY GEARIN: John Newcombe, himself a Davis Cup player and captain, see the tennis authorities as
being the biggest obstacles.

JOHN NEWCOMBE: We floated an idea like this 10 years ago, and, you know, the ITF's made up of
basically of amateur officials and amateur officials are not known to act like, you know,
professional businessmen, you know, saying, "Yes, that's a really good decision! Let's make it!"

JAMES HIRD: We've got a concept, we've got a fantastic idea, we've got financial support for it.
But the tennis family will ultimately decide whether something like this works.

MARY GEARIN: James Hird will be using the blaze of publicity surrounding the Australian Open to
promote his idea, knowing he's hitting into the wind.

So at this point in time, what's the percentage chance of it getting off the ground?

JAMES HIRD: Oh, look, it's still quite small, I think, to be honest. It's still quite a small
chance of something like this getting off the ground. I mean, you're trying to bring a new format
into a very traditional game that is very successful. But that small chance is growing every day.
And, you know, we might be up to 20 or 30 per cent now and hopefully by the middle of the year
we'll have it over 50.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mary Gearin with that report.