‘It had to change’ – Jamie Murray on ‘new’ Davis Cup, visiting the Bernabeu & playing ‘cornhole’

Jamie Murray BBC Sport Columnist graphic

2019 Davis Cup finals
Venue: Caja Magica, Madrid Dates: 18-24 November
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra from Wednesday, 20 November; Live text coverage on selected matches on the BBC Sport website and app. Click here for Live Guide.

Jamie Murray is part of the Great Britain team competing in the inaugural Davis Cup finals and, in his latest BBC Sport column from Madrid, talks about the controversial new format, representing his country again alongside brother Andy, plus how Real Madrid tours, pool and ‘cornhole’ games have fostered team spirit.

Everyone in tennis was in agreement that the Davis Cup needed to change.

The top players weren’t able to commit to the event, not because they didn’t want to, or because they didn’t like the Davis Cup, it was just because it took so much time out of their schedule during the year.

If you got to the final it could be eight weeks in your year and with the fixtures always played right after the Grand Slams, ATP Finals or other big events, it meant the ties didn’t come at the right time of the calendar.

That is a shame because it is amazing event and, I think, when a large majority of tennis players look back on their careers, the matches they will remember will be the Davis Cup matches because they stir up the most emotion and have been played in front of cracking atmospheres. I’ll certainly remember them the most anyway.

But the ITF had to make a change, they have made a change, some people don’t like it and some people do. But this is the first year since Barcelona footballer Gerard Pique and his Kosmos group got involved so we have to see how it goes.

From a player’s perspective, the format is pretty cool and it is fun to be here as a team along with 17 others, it is cool to see all the players together playing for their country and wearing their national colours.

There are a lot of good teams here, I know not all the top players in the world are playing, some didn’t qualify and a couple chose not to, but there are a lot of great teams and there should be a lot of great tennis this week.

It doesn’t surprise me that a lot of the top players are here, first and foremost because players love representing their countries, but also because there has been a huge injection of cash from Kosmos. There are definitely financial incentives for guys to come and play here.

I always thought 95% of the players would play if they qualified, why wouldn’t you? Financially it makes sense and you have the prestige of playing in the Davis Cup.

Most of all it is a fun week, you’re here with your friends, you’re part of a team.

Which of the world’s top 20 are playing?
Rafael Nadal (Spain) [1] Fabio Fognini (Italy) [12]
Novak Djokovic (Serbia) [2] Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) [14]
Matteo Berrettini (Italy) [8] Denis Shapovalov (Canada) [15]
Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain) [9] Karen Khachanov (Russia) [17]
Gael Monfils (France) [10] Alex de Minaur (Australia) [18]
David Goffin (Belgium) [11]

‘We hope the stadiums will be packed’

There has been some concern about the size of the crowds and suggestions a few ties at the Caja Magica will be far from sold out.

I hope people do come out and support the event because it has the potential to be a great event.

It’s like the football World Cup, a lot of those matches aren’t necessarily glamour matches and the stadiums aren’t full.

I’m sure it’ll be the same here but for the real big matches we hope the stadiums will be packed and provide a great atmosphere which showcase potentially the best tournament in tennis.

I genuinely don’t how the fans will react and whether the crowds will improve as the tournament moves through the week and develops over the next few years.

Unless you’re Spanish, or you’re living here in Madrid, there is a considerable cost to come for potentially a week, but I understand that a fair few Brits will be here for our matches against the Netherlands on Wednesday and Kazakhstan on Thursday.

Madrid has a Masters tournament in May where you get the best 50 men and best 50 women competing so now the city has got a new event with not all the top 50 competing, and without the women, so it might not be as attractive for them to come and watch because they’ve already seen tennis a few months earlier.

I hope not but we will have to wait and see then go from there.

But as far as the event goes – the organisation, logistics and set-up – it has been great.

Argentina fans at the Davis Cup<!–

‘I’m happy to be representing Britain again with my brother’

Of course, my younger brother Andy is part of Great Britain team again, only 10 months after he had a major hip operation which left him unsure whether he’d play again.

It is great to have him back playing and fit and healthy and committed to playing for Great Britain in the Davis Cup – and it boosts our chances in the competition.

It will be a lot of tennis for him in the next five days if we are to go through the tournament to the final, which will mean playing every day.

We’re always going to be a more dangerous team with him playing and if he performs to the level that we all know he is capable of then we have a great chance of going far.

Truthfully I’d never thought about whether we’d play together again in the Davis Cup during his injury struggles, but I know he loves playing and being part of a team so I’m happy he is back.

For us the motivation is playing for our country and getting together with a great team.

Andy and Jamie Murray<!–

‘The tourists at Real Madrid didn’t know what was happening!’

The British squad came out to Madrid last Wednesday and Leon Smith, our Davis Cup captain, has done a great job of creating a great team spirit among the team, not just the five players but all the support staff as well.

Leon makes sure when we turn up that we have a good, fun week and everybody enjoys it regardless of what the result is and that’s why I think we’ve had a lot of success in recent years.

He makes it fun for the players to come because he understands it can be an effort for the guys to play with another week out of the schedule.

We’ve done a few cool things around the city and a couple of days ago we went to the Santiago Bernabeu – Real Madrid’s stadium – that was great fun.

It is a nice tour – they’ve won everything haven’t they!

We saw the Ballon d’Ors, the Golden Boots, shirts of players from Alfredo di Stefano and Juanito to Ronaldo and Raul, we went into the dugouts and stood on the side of the pitch.

Jamie Murray in Madrid<!–

The other notable part of the tour was that we made Neal Skupski do his Davis Cup rookie speech in the Real Madrid press room!

He was supposed to do it at the official team dinner but it wasn’t possible so we got him unannounced in the press room.

He did the usual speech – thanking Leon for selecting him, what a great honour it was representing Britain, saying he was looking forward to playing – but the big difference was the location and that there were also a few tourists watching who didn’t know what was going on. No pressure!

We’ve also been having fun with a pool competition, we had the semi-finals and final on Tuesday night. Leon beat me and Andy – he hasn’t shut up about that – so I know he’s in the semi-finals.

The most fun activity is cornhole – an American game where you have a wooden board with a hole in the middle and you have to try and throw a bag in there – because it is mass participation and we have good fun.

I’m sure other sports teams do it but all of these activities have been a good way for team bonding and build our camaraderie going into the tournament.

Let’s hope we can go all the way to Sunday’s final!

Jamie Murray was speaking to BBC Sport’s Jonathan Jurejko in Madrid.

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