Since its inception in 2017, the identity of the Laver Cup has never been set in stone, with there being a clear divide, especially amongst fans, on whether it is a professional tournament or just a weekend-long exhibition.
“They call me & say ‘You can be free…’ For me, I’m here to have fun.’ That was said by French legend Gael Monfils on Day One of the 2023 edition of the tournament last month, and it has fans split.
The tournament, on face value, is a great concept that has led to some brilliant moments over the last six years with a terrific motive. 20-time Grand Slam Champion and tournament co-creator Roger Federer has said several times before, that the main reasons for the Laver Cup were to introduce a unique team-based tennis event into the calendar and give fans a ‘festival of tennis’.
From Federer himself playing doubles with long-time rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to Team World spoiling his retirement celebration in 2022 by winning the trophy for the first time, the event has definitely had its fair share of unique moments.
However, the comment made by Monfils this year has made many fans question whether the occasion will survive if some players do not actually understand whether it should be treated as any regular ATP tournament or, with its carnival atmosphere, be treated like an exhibition where there is less pressure.
One thing is for sure: there is absolutely more that can be done to ensure the survival of this event and make it even more appealing to a wider crop of fans.
Continuing on from this, another glaring issue with the format is the fact that even though both teams have eligible players from numerous nations, especially in Team World’s case, there has been a monopoly on the allocation of the spots from a couple of nations specifically.
In four of the six Laver Cups contested, Team World has had at least four team members compete from the USA. Now I understand that in terms of competitiveness and how the USA has many members in the top fifty in the ATP rankings, it makes complete sense, especially since non-European players make up seventy percent of the top 50, but there needs to be a wider spread of nations represented to get more fans interested.
For example, there was only one player that wasn’t from the USA or Canada that was part of their team this year, and that was #21 Francisco Cerundolo. If choosing more USA players were to make the tournament more competitive due to their higher rankings, Tomas Martin Etcheverry, Sebastian Baez, and Nicolas Jarry were all ranked higher than Christopher Eubanks, who was selected as the alternate.
Another way to make this tournament more interesting and marketable is to get the man who co-created it more involved. Now they did this with the very appropriate Q&A session on day two this year with Federer in the stadium, but I think the tournament organisers can go even further.
I truly think that Federer, along with his 2000s rival, former US star Andy Roddick, should become more involved to give the tournament more of a current vibe. Now the idea of tennis legends Bjorn Borg and John Mcenroe captaining both sides is a brilliant concept that absolutely shouldn’t be changed, but with both the Swiss and American retired, I think they should be more involved as potentially mentors or even vice captains.
The truth is, any tournament that has Federer there in whatever sense, whether it be commentary, public speaking, or playing an exhibition, is going to get more exposure and more fans watching, so why not involve him and someone like his long-time friend and rival in Roddick as much as possible?
Furthering this, organisers should also look at holding the event somewhere that doesn’t receive much tennis viewership and that doesn’t hold many tournaments. There are now a plethora of options to choose from when contemplating this idea, but two very solid ones could be both Greece and Chile.
They both do not have any tournaments above an ATP 250 level, lack any professional tournaments held there at all, and especially with Greece having Stefanos Tsitsipas as one of the world’s most marketable players, I truly think an event there would be a great success.
My final suggestion, which would work very well as a way to get fans to know more lesser-known players, is to have a wildcard from both teams.
This could work in many ways, but why not have it as a player outside the top one hundred who hasn’t won more than two ATP titles and who is 21 years younger? For example, this year Team Europe could have had Serb Hamad Medjedovic and Team World, either the big serving American Alex Michelsen or recent Tokyo quarterfinalist Shintaro Mochizuki.
It would be a great way to introduce these players to a wider range of fans while also providing them with invaluable experience playing with and against the best players in the world, while also giving them more exposure to give themselves more chances for sponsorship deals, coaching opportunities, etc.
When looking at this event, it is very simply a case of what do the higher ups do with it. I personally really enjoy the event, with it providing me some lifelong memories as a teenager with a lot of entertainment.
This tournament should be treated as an exhibition, because when looking at the vibe of it holistically, it has all the hall marks of it but, I absolutely believe players should give it their absolute best and treat it like playing any other rankings/professional tournament.
The concept is a terrific idea which deserves patience and energy into improving it and making it one of the sports biggest drawcards. Love it or hate it, it will be sticking around for the near future and hopefully, for decades to come.