Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Why is the Laver Cup Struggling to Stay Relevant?

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Going into the inaugural 2017 Laver Cup, the top seven players in the world were all from Europe. Five of the seven played in the event in Prague in 2017.  Six years later, the top three players in the world hail from Europe and none of them are playing in the Laver Cup. Through mistakes and some bad luck, the once promising event is in danger of becoming mediocre.

Background

In 2017, world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and world No. 2 Roger Federer headlined a star-studded European team that defeated a gallant Team World. Federer outlasted Team World’s Nick Kyrigos by the slimmest of margins in the final match to claim the Laver Cup for Europe. Federer’s 11-9 nail-biting win in the match tie-breaker devastated Kyrgios while captivating fans and announced the Laver Cup’s place on the tennis calendar.

The 2018 edition did a terrific job on building on the success of the first year. An electric atmosphere inside of Chicago’s United Center nearly propelled Team World past the favored Team Europe. Only some late Sunday magic from Federer and Alexander Zverev kept the Laver Cup in Europe’s hands.

Within two years, traditions developed and a rivalry grew. After a Covid cancellation in 2020 and a Team Europe beatdown of Team World in Boston in 2021, the event began to falter. Team World finally won the Laver Cup in 2022, but cracks were showing. This year, there is less buzz and less talent than any previous year. If the organizers want this event to return to its previous glory, some changes must be made.

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New Captains Needed

While Captains John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg were ideal choices in 2017, organizers need to make changes to stay relevant. Borg is very quiet and McEnroe, along with his brother Patrick as Vice Captain, have had their time.

Golf’s Ryder Cup captaincies are coveted posts that change nearly every iteration of the event. It is time for exciting new faces. Team World should approach Andre Agassi, Brad Gilbert, or even Lleyton Hewitt to bring new energy and charisma to their bench. Kyrigos sometimes claims this is his favorite event; if he can’t play due to injury he could be a colorful Vice-Captain and eventually a Captain.

It might be too soon for Federer, who is part owner of the Laver Cup, to take the helm of Team Europe, but maybe Andy Murray or David Ferrer? Tiger Woods both captained and played on the USA President’s Cup team. Would Carlos Alcaraz or Jannik Sinner say no to a big-name captain who was also a childhood idol? A relevant captain could help push Europe’s best players to play.

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Friday’s Format

The format of the Laver Cup has an identical set of four matches per day for three days. While the doubles matches provide great excitement, having identical slates each day yet having Friday’s matches count for only 1 point and Sunday’s count for 3 points is a bit contrived. I would like to see them play eight-game pro sets on Friday to bring a rapid-fire approach to Day 1. Each pro set could count for a half point so there are still four points up for grabs on the day, but all six team members would have to play. The fast pace would likely ignite the crowd.

Roster Questions

Laver Cup teams consist of six players and an alternate who plays in case of injury. Or do they? While Roger Federer’s tear-jerking farewell doubles match with partner Rafael Nadal provided a great atmosphere and classy send-off, it made the Laver Cup look like more of an exhibition when both Nadal and Federer disappeared after their doubles match, leaving Team Europe with alternates playing the weekend.

This year, Team World named Chris Eubanks as the team’s alternate. Then, just eight days before first ball, they named Canadian Milos Raonic as a second alternate. Laver Cup rules call for one alternate. Could it be Raonic is there to draw Canadian ticket buyers in the host city of Vancouver?

Out of Their Control

While Laver Cup organizers need to overcome some errors to right their trajectory, some problems are out of their control. Significant changes to the Davis Cup format sent players traveling across the globe just a week before teams are set to arrive in Vancouver.

Americans Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe, both members of Team World, are playing this weekend in Split, Croatia. Split is over 5,000 miles from Vancouver. That trip includes a nine-hour time difference. Hopefully Paul and Tiafoe don’t fall asleep on the Team World bench. If they bow out due to injury or overwork, might we see Canadian Raonic?

Europe’s top three players, Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, and Carlos Alcaraz all passed on the Laver Cup after brutal summer schedules. Maybe a change of date can be considered, but there is not much organizers can do about that.

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Play On

The 2017 Laver Cup arrived with such promise, with a certain mystique because nobody knew just how hard the players would play. The first iteration was no exhibition. The 2023 edition begins Friday and might be too much of an exhibition. It has the potential to be a significant event on the tennis calendar, but changes are needed sooner rather than later.

Main Photo Credit: Peter van den Berg – USA TODAY Sports

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