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Davis Cup organizers downplay criticism from French players

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MADRID — Despite renewed complaints from France’s players about the upcoming changes to the Davis Cup, the organizers of the revamped tennis tournament are adamant that everything will soon be better.

Javier Alonso, the CEO of the company behind the new competition, spoke to The Associated Press two days after France’s Davis Cup team lashed out at the changes being made to the traditional tournament. Lucas Pouille even said he would boycott the competition.

“There are several reasons why there is a negative perception in France,” Alonso said. “If France hadn’t made it to the finals these last few years, the perception there would be different.

“France also is a particular case because the French federation is richer, having a Grand Slam, a Masters (event) and many other tournaments. Other federations are not like that. There are some countries that don’t want to host matches because they would lose money if they did.”

France hosted this year’s final, losing to Croatia 3-1. It was the team’s second straight final appearance, and third in five years.

The new format will be an 18-team tournament played over a week in a single venue, with the first two editions being hosted by Madrid on an indoor hard court at the Magic Box arena, which already hosts the Madrid Masters.

The revamped competition was developed in a partnership between the International Tennis Federation and Kosmos, the investment group founded by Barcelona defender Gerard Pique. The ITF says the changes will help increase revenue for the national federations.

Besides the French, others have also complained about the new format. Among those showing opposition was top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who said the Davis Cup would conflict with the ATP Cup, a newly created team competition. Roger Federer has said he does not intend to play in the new Davis Cup event, but Rafael Nadal has already confirmed his presence.

Alonso said he was not too concerned about top players not committing to the new competition.

“I’m not worried, but we are working to try to show that these changes were needed and that it will be good for the players to come to Madrid and play,” he said. “First, we need to know which teams will qualify, then we can start talking to the players to try to convince them. Right now we have a lot of people talking and they may not even qualify.”

Organizers said the new format is supposed to alleviate the calendar by decreasing the number of dates allocated to the Davis Cup, which currently is played over four weekends throughout the year. The new event would be decided in November after a qualification round in February.

“What we are doing is trying to solve a point of conflict for the players,” Alonso said. “We have taken three to four weeks from the calendar.”

Alonso also said plans to include the women’s Fed Cup in the new format would be considered in a second phase of the project.

He said the third edition of the men’s tournament is expected to be played in the United States.

Matteo Berrettini breaks through on grass to win Stuttgart Open

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STUTTGART, Germany — Matteo Berrettini beat Canadian teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-6 (11) to win the Stuttgart Open and his third tour-level title on Sunday.

The Italian saved five set points in a second-set tiebreaker and clinched his first title on grass. His other titles came at Budapest in April, and Gstaad, Switzerland, last year.

The 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime previously reached championship matches in Rio de Janeiro in February and the Lyon Open in May – both on clay.

Berrettini won all 50 of his service games during the week in Stuttgart. He did not face a break point against Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime progressed to the final in his first professional grass tournament without playing Saturday as compatriot Milos Raonic withdrew ahead of their semifinal due to back problems.

Playing on two surfaces, Vekic reaches Nottingham semis

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NOTTINGHAM, England — Former champion Donna Vekic finally got to play on grass at the Nottingham Open on Friday but had to overcome multiple rain delays and another switch indoors before reaching the semifinals.

The second-seeded Vekic defeated Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-4 in a match played on two surfaces as rain again played havoc with the schedule.

The opening two days were completely washed out before organizers decided to switch the first and second rounds indoors as rain fell for four consecutive days.

Vekic, who won the tournament in 2017, will play Germany’s Tatjana Maria in her third straight semifinal in Nottingham. Maria earlier defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 7-6 (7) in the only match completed on grass so far at the tournament.

Also Friday, American Jennifer Brady defeated fourth-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece 7-5, 6-3 to set up a semifinal against top-seeded Caroline Garcia.

Garcia rallied to beat Romanian qualifier Elena-Gabriela Ruse 4-6, 7-6, 6-1 in the last quarterfinal.