Tennis Prose



Given Time And Care, Laver Cup Can Serve Up Superb Tennis

You’ve probably heard the marketing spiel before: The Laver Cup can be to tennis what the Ryder Cup is to golf.  But in truth, the tournament has a long way to go before it can reach the heights of the biannual golf event. Coincidentally, both the 43rd Ryder Cup and the 4th Laver Cup were held over the same weekend in September. Both were successful events, but only one had that stop-what-you-are-doing kind of global appeal – The Ryder Cup.

There’s no shame in that for the organizers of the Laver Cup. The golf event has decades of history behind it, whereas the Laver Cup has five. These things take time to evolve, and evolve they do: The current Ryder Cup, in terms of how players and fans view it, is different from what it was twenty years ago, and it’s markedly different from what it was sixty years ago.

We will leave the Ryder Cup comparisons there for now. But it’s enough to say that the Laver Cup can grow into something spectacular if it’s given the time to do so. And there’s every reason to be confident in its future. If you look at social media, tennis fans are passionate about discussing the tournament’s future. They have ideas, and they are worth hearing.

Isner has been banging the drum

However, perhaps the most encouraging aspect is that the players seem to love the concept of the Laver Cup. John Isner, the man most noted for participating in two of the longest matches in Wimbledon history, has been among the Laver Cup’s most vocal cheerleaders. He called the atmosphere “electric” and waxed lyrical on how it means more to play for something beyond your personal ambition.

Of course, if you’ve been following the Laver Cup since its inception in 2017, you’ll know that Isner has yet to be on the winning team. While each match is hard-fought, Team Europe’s supremacy over Team World (the 2019 event was probably the only Laver Cup where the scores were close) does tend to create a lack of jeopardy and drama, even if the event’s format means all is still to play for on the final day. A 14-1 drubbing in the 2021 Laver Cup suggest Team World has a lot of catching up to do, but the pendulum swings back and forth over time.

As mentioned, fans have had their say on what they feel could help the competition. And one of the most frequent suggestions popping up from their commentary is that having new captains each year would help the profile of the Laver Cup. Yes, John McEnroe and Born Bjorg are tennis royalty, but, as with the Ryder Cup, new captains can put their own stamp on the tournament. Imagine seeing Goran Ivanisevic lead out Team Europe against Andre Agassi’s Team World in 2022? What about Pat Cash and Boris Becker the year after? And, it doesn’t have to be male captains: Steffi Graf could guide Team Europe against Monica Seles’ Team world. Those are just some of the possibilities, but you get the idea.

Adding women to the Laver Cup would create more interest

Speaking of female players, that too was frequently mentioned by fans on social media and fan forums, although there was little agreement on how it would be formatted. There was some suggestion of simply adding women to the current set-up, including some women’s singles and mixed doubles. That has a lot of merit in that, and it also might help the Laver Cup create a unique identity instead of just being the Ryder Cup of tennis. Of course, you could have a separate women’s event – equivalent to golf’s Solheim Cup – but it would be much more interesting to have combined men’s and women’s teams in the same event.

It’s worth saying that there are some naysayers on the Laver Cup. They might claim that tennis already has the Davis Cup, so why the need for another team event? But there is something wonderfully chaotic about throwing players from different nations together and making it a team. There is also something that gets down to the fundamentals of sport and competitiveness when the players and fans show passion for a team that has been cobbled together. There’s a difference between rooting for Team World and your country. There’s less pressure, and that can make it raucous and fun.

As you are no doubt aware, we have mentioned golf and the Ryder Cup several times in this article. But the main ambition of the Laver Cup organizers should be to shake that comparison. It’s going to take time, care, patience and perhaps a little tinkering, but it can become an integral part of the tennis calendar, capable of making its own history.

John Isner.

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