Frances Tiafoe sat bare-chested in his changeover chair early Sunday evening with his face buried deep in a white towel. He had just fallen to Borna Coric in a five sets in the fifth-and-deciding match of the Davis Cup semifinals.
A few feet away, the jubilant Croatian team formed a semi-circle, dancing and singing. The spectators who remained in the outdoor stadium in Zadar, Croatia, lent their voices. It's the moment Tiafoe wanted -- the ecstasy that accompanies clinching a Davis Cup tie, especially one on foreign soil.
But it's likely he will never get to experience what Coric & Co. did. Next year, Davis Cup will become a season-ending, one-week "World Cup of Tennis" featuring 18 teams battling it out in a best-of-three-matches format at a neutral site for most. (In 2019, it will be played in Lille, France, or in Madrid).
The new format has not been received well by many. Lleyton Hewitt called it a "money grab." Andy Murray asked that his peers get behind the format while conceding it is "not the correct solution." Roger Federer warned that the event should not be allowed to become the "Pique Cup," a reference to Gerard Pique, the former Barcelona and Spain football star who is the president of Kosmos, the investment group that sold the ITF on the new format. Kosmos pledged to invest more than $3 billion over 25 years in the World Cup of Tennis.
The promise of crazy money, while seductive, is not always bankable. But that's only one of the issues.
Top players haven't made Davis Cup an absolute priority. With a few exceptions, they drop in and out of the competition. It's silly to think the stars will treat the new format any differently. The event will be the last major competition of the year, played after the ATP World Tour Championships. If they're not already tired (or injured) by the time the year-end event rolls around, they certainly will be when the World Cup of Tennis pops up on the calendar.
The real downfall is for players such as Tiafoe, who won't have an opportunity to avenge this kind of loss in that kind of atmosphere. He will go into the history books as the last U.S. player to contest a true Davis Cup match. He nearly pulled off a magnificent upset -- despite being ranked 22 notches below No. 18 Coric -- that would have given the Americans their first appearance in a final in 11 years.
This past weekend's competition had everything Davis Cup has become renowned for in its 118-year history: a robust, festive atmosphere, fantastic crowd participation, gritty effort and intense pressure. Never mind the plot twists (U.S. captain Jim Courier's surprise decision to play Sam Querrey in the fourth rubber that extended the tie) and the aforementioned agony and ecstasy.
"Obviously I'm not going to be happy," Tiafoe told the USTA media staff afterward. "It's not just about me. It's not like I just lost a 3-out-of-5 in a Grand Slam. There's so many people involved -- security, a massage guy. It's such a big team. Everyone's so invested. I was doing it for something more than myself."
After November's finale, the Davis Cup we know will be no more. Long live Davis Cup.