Following Davis Cup Reforms, Fed Cup Adopts a New Format

LONDON — The International Tennis Federation announced Thursday that the final rounds of Fed Cup, the top women’s team tennis competition, will adopt a World Cup-style format similar to the one the men’s Davis Cup switched to last year.

For the first three years, beginning in 2020, the event will be held in Budapest.

In a ceremony at the Queen’s Club, where she played in the first Fed Cup competition in 1963, Billie Jean King said she hoped that the change would be embraced in a sport often resistant to innovation.

“I just hope everybody gets behind this and they elevate it every year, because sometimes it’s a bigger risk not to take a risk,” King said. “We have to keep evolving, because everybody else around us is. We want to make our sport bigger and better.”

The Fed Cup reform has been far less contentious than the Davis Cup reform, which was passed last August over opposition from major national federations like Australia, Britain and Germany.

One of the most outspoken critics of the Davis Cup change was Attila Richter, the general secretary of the Hungarian Tennis Federation, who will now serve as tournament director of the new Fed Cup Finals. He said had Fed Cup reform had “much bigger support from nations and players.”

The expansion of the world group to 20 teams from eight allows countries with talented players to advance more rapidly to elite levels, which often took years under the steeply tiered previous format.

Like in the revamped Davis Cup, the home-and-away model, which fostered boisterous partisan crowds that were a hallmark of the team competitions, will remain in the play-in rounds held in February.

The eight winners from those rounds will be among the 12 finalists, who will compete over six days in April between the premier-level clay-court events in Charleston, S.C., and Stuttgart, Germany. The Fed Cup will also be played on clay, giving the often disruptive competition coherence in the course of the circuit.

The Fed Cup finals have a more appealing spot on the calendar than the new-look Davis Cup finals, an 18-team event that will be held in Madrid in November — nine months after the play-in rounds.

Women’s teams no longer have to compete at the tail end of the season, and will not have to travel several times a year to faraway destinations. This year’s Fed Cup final between Australia and France, for example, will be in Perth in November, forcing the French players to travel to the opposite side of the world during what would otherwise be their off-season.

Next year, all players will have that week in the calendar free to add to their recuperation from the 10-month season.

“We shortened the calendar for the players,” I.T.F. president Dave Haggerty said. “They play just two weeks, and they have a longer off-season, which they’d requested.”

Adding wealth to the wellness, the Fed Cup prize pool is significantly increased, to $18 million. That amount will match the Davis Cup payout, Haggerty said, calling the parity “a seminal moment in tennis.”

Haggerty said he hoped the new one-site group-play format would be easier for fans than the old format, which often popped up in spaced-out intervals. This year, for example, winners of the semifinals in April will wait until November for the finals.

“Before, many matches went on around the world, and what was the outcome?” Haggerty said. “You go to the next round, but where will it be played? When will it be played? Now you have definition: you know where it is, when it is.”

Though the outrage was muted compared to the Davis Cup decision, some disappointment was expressed by players. The French player Alizé Cornet sarcastically congratulated the I.T.F. for a “good job on killing the competition just as they did with Davis Cup.”

King, who has started many tennis competitions and organizations, said she often found complaints from players empty.

“It’s a business, whether you like it or not,” she said. “Most of the players that comment have never had their own skin in the game, to be honest. I have. I don’t look at just what the players want, I look at what’s right for the sport.

“If you look at the rest of the world, events have gotten more mega and focused.”

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