What should we make of this weekend’s Laver Cup? The brand new exhibition, although many of those participating said it was not that at all, just ended in Prague. Roger Federer, who spearheaded the event as a way, in part, to honor the legacy of his idol, Rod Laver, helped seal victory for Team Europe over Team World in a dramatic come from behind win against Nick Kyrgios who was left in tears after the match.
If it’s not an exhibition, then what is it indeed? When the event was first announced, it certainly fit the bill. That is, gather some big name players and have them face off against each other in a special venue outside of the regular ATP tour.
But with the Laver Cup adding in unique scoring, something akin to World Team Tennis, the three-day event felt different than the usual “hit and giggle” often associated with other exhibitions.
While some tennis fans may have tuned out completely, those that did were certainly treated to something – different. In this case, competitive matches, some very unique team celebrations, especially on the Team World side, and the first time pairing of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in doubles.
It’s not wrong to say that that event felt scripted at times, even if it wasn’t. After all, Team World, with it’s plethora of rising talent in Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, and even Kyrgios was outmatched early by the likes of Federer, Nadal, and even more consistent foes in Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem. But then Team World, despite trailing by a massive deficit, mounted a comeback on the last day. That was helped when John Isner enjoyed a rare win over Nadal that helped set up the ultimate meeting between Federer and Kyrgios that decided the outcome. Close matches and drama in each day might have made it seem like it was just another exo. But those in attendance and watching elsewhere were left with the feeling that yes, this really did feel real.
Does this mean Laver Cup will influence other team events, most notably Davis Cup? That’s hard to say in the short-term.
Davis Cup still generates attention but relies a lot on whatever country is playing and hosting a tie to achieve that. And there’s the matter of getting a star player from said country to participate, especially toward the end of a grueling season. That Federer, and his associates, was able to convince so many big names to take part, even as we near the end of the year says a lot. Money probably says a lot too. (Participants do earn appearance fees and those on the winning team earn $250,000 each). Laver Cup, based on the turnout and overall interest, just might prove to be more successful down the road than other recent team events that border on exhibitions, most recently the ITPL, which has run into some financial difficulties of late.
The Laver Cup moves on next year to Chicago. A worthy host city considering it has not had an ATP or WTA tour event in many years. Laver Cup will not replace the regular tour or even the majors, but based on its initial success, it certainly appears to be an event that will not be just a one time “hit and giggle”.