About a year ago, the Laver Cup was announced as the most coveted team championship that the world of tennis was waiting for. A reflection of the Ryder Cup from Golf, the event will see Team Europe compete against the Rest of the World team.
I wrote about it here and poured some lukewarm water over any enthusiasm that may have been bubbling for it. I decried it as being too late due to the erosion of Federer and Nadal, as being heavily lopsided against the Rest of the World, and as being just another exhibition that will fail to extract players from their heavy tour commitments.
We are only a few weeks away from the inaugural edition, and men’s tennis year this far has been rather unexpected. How do the events of this year bode for the Laver Cup?
Federer and Nadal have become the tearaway leaders on the men’s tour this year. Yes, those two again. A year ago, no one in their wildest imaginations would have thought that these two would split all the major spoils of the season thus far between them. The season is only two-thirds of the way in but they are firmly in the lead to finish the year as World No. 1 and 2. Even without such a stellar year, the litany of their achievements would have always ensured that they remained relevant to the tournaments that they participated in. But somehow, almost eight years after this relevance hit its zenith, they have achieved even more significance as far as men’s tennis goes.
So, having the best players of the year, who also conveniently happen to be two of the greatest players of all time, in an event should be a good thing, right?
I don’t think so. After all, both Federer and Nadal are in the same team. The fact still remains that a Europe vs the Rest of the World contest is, well, a no-contest.
Which non-European player can even claim to challenge Federer or Nadal? There are only four non-Europeans in the top 20 and they have collectively managed to muster only 11 wins against Federer and Nadal in 70 matches. Where is the challenge going to come from? Two names who can actually pose some questions to Federer and Nadal are Juan Martin del Potro and Nick Kyrgios. But Kyrgios is still injured. And although del Potro is currently not carrying any injury, he hasn’t yet displayed his best form this year. Worst of all, even if they are well in shape and form, they might not even be in the event if the rule book is to be believed (which says 4 of the 6 players will be selected based on rankings as of the Monday after Wimbledon, which was the 17th of July and both Kyrgios and del Potro are outside the top 4 in the Rest of the World pool).
Ironically, we must consider it a case of good fortune that Novak Djokovic is not going to participate this year due to an injury. That would have made the scale even more comically unbalanced. The fact remains that in the present day, tennis is immensely concentrated with Europeans.
You might argue that sport has far too many cases of Davids and Goliaths that an unbalanced match-up alone is not a strong argument to write off this event. But then there are no stakes to this event. In the absence of any ranking points or professional career benefits, what will compel the underdog to fight against the towering odds?
In fact, in another case of irony, the lack of stakes might actually make the contest slightly more even. After all there is an equal lack of compulsion on the greats to produce their best tennis as well. But then this leads to the dilemma of whether it is even worth watching such a match where nothing is at stake?
What then will be the selling proposition of the Laver Cup? Federer and Nadal may continue to be wear-free machines that can churn out the highest quality of tennis year after year. But they are not competing against each other. It bids to be the equivalent of the Ryder Cup. But in the absence of a real contest, any context to the event, any legacy to the tournament, and any real value stakes, what has the Laver Cup to offer other than being an exhibition, albeit with a lot of name dropping?
So here we are. A year on since the first announcement. Two of the greatest players of all time are playing in a competition that bears the name of another all-time great.
And yet, would I like me some Laver Cup? Maybe later.