After 25 years in charge, Earl Buchholz Jr. – or Butch as he is simply known throughout the world of tennis – has stood down as the head man of one of the world’s leading tennis tournaments on Key Biscayne. But now he has turned his sights on the Davis Cup and is determined to restore the 110 year-old competition to a position of premier importance.
Like so many in the sport, Buchholz is worried at the growing trend of marquee players opting out of representing their nations; this year Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the man who collected the newly named Butch Buchholz Trophy at the Sony Ericsson Open, Andy Roddick are the three most noticeable.
For several years Buchholz and his regular golf partner Cliff Drysdale have discussed how the Davis Cup’s format could be improved in the public’s perception and Mike Davies, the former International Tennis Federation executive who more recently has been president and CEO of the Pilot Pen Tennis Championships in New Haven has also joined in discussions.
“We are not working against the ITF, we want to work with them,” maintained Buchholz. “We aren’t going in there saying ‘we have a better idea than yours’ because they won’t buy that but, we believe they must evaluate whether the Davis Cup in its present format is working and whether they are really making the most of their prime asset.
“What happened to Davis Cup? It used to be as big if not bigger than the grand slams. Remember Frank Shields in 1931, the USTA asked him to default the Wimbledon final because he was injured and they feared he might not be fit to play Davis Cup against Britain two weeks later. Can you imagine that ever happening now?”
Thus far the ITF hierarchy such as president Francesco Ricci Bitti, executive vice-president Juan Margets and Davis Cup Executive Director Paul Smith have resolutely insisted the competition is just fine in its’ present format. Many knowledgeable people around the tennis world would beg to differ.
Buchholz continued: “We don’t want to run the Davis Cup, it is the ITF’s asset but unless something changes soon, we fear it will simply become a junior Davis Cup.
“The TV situation isn’t working, it ought to be covered worldwide and it’s not. We had a dinner here a month or so ago with 200 tennis people and not one of them could raise their hand and say who won the Davis Cup last year and who America’s first opponents were. We have to open the Davis Cup up to the world.”
Buchholz has achieved many things in tennis but one thing he doesn’t want to be seen as is somebody intentionally rocking the boat. However he cares deeply about Davis Cup and stressed: “There’s a debate out there. There are many issues to sort out, the calendar for one, the potential venues, the preliminary rounds, how it would actually work. But the ITF cannot help but acknowledge that people are thinking about it and talking about it.
“We have to sit with the ITF and work this out. Let’s make this better for tennis, let us have tennis benefit. The ITF uses the money is makes from the Davis Cup as a means of defending the status quo but what if we came up with a business plan, with the venues sorted, the calendar sorted and the players sorted, that doubled that money?
“I think what you will see, if we do the combined event is that more countries will really start to pay attention to the development of both their men and their women players. It may take 10 years, 15 years, but countries who think they are going to be able to compete for this will start putting more into it.”