Home » Its success is undeniable, but the Laver Cup comes to a crossroads

Its success is undeniable, but the Laver Cup comes to a crossroads

by archyde
The emotion was intense, unique. And it wasn’t crocodile tears. Last Friday, after a final double alongside his great rival and friend Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer closed the book of his immense career in front of a jam-packed O2 Arena in London and millions of viewers. He also fell into the arms of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, as well as all his Team Europe teammates, and his captain Björn Borg. He was even carried in triumph by his opponents from Team World and their captain John McEnroe.

Thanks to the Laver Cup, the Swiss was able to realize a last tennis dream: to make his retirement a party, and a collective celebration of the game under the patronage of Rod Laver. Even the most fervent opponents of the event created in 2017 had to face the facts: the evening was more than successful and this Friday, September 23 will surely be a milestone. Because this exit from the stage played, so to speak, the role of group therapy in the face of a page in the history of the game that was turning. Nothing was affected and the image of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal side by side in tears will remain as the dream conclusion of an extraordinary rivalry.

Like it or not, this major sequence, that “last thrill”, took place at the Laver Cup. But what importance should be given to the competition or the exhibition (according to opinions, perhaps even a mixture of the two) in itself? The sequel and the end of the weekend were arguably less followed by viewers globally. Nevertheless, she continued to captivate, and first of all those who were present on the spot. On Saturday and Sunday, the stands were also well stocked. Next to it, the Davis Cup, reformed three years ago, looks very pale, it must be admitted.

Gala level, seriousness and suspense: major assets

How then can this public interest be explained? Objectively, three main reasons can be put forward. First of all, the Laver Cup features (very) high-level matches. In addition to the double played by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the one that pitted the Murray / Berrettini pair against Auger-Aliassime / Sock ignited the O2 Arena. And what about the singles: the duel with a knife between Berrettini and “F2A” then Frances Tiafoe’s final comeback against a palpably nervous Stefanos Tsitsipas were the hot spots of the weekend. They generated all the more electricity in the air that they could not be suspected of arrangements – which are often the hallmark of exhibitions to provide a false suspense -, given the involvement of the actors.
And that is the second strong point of this Laver Cup: it is played seriously, which Roger Federer himself was insured when it was created in 2017. As on the traditional circuit, it stages one-way matches. Diego Schwartzman Friday and Frances Tiafoe Saturday thus did not have a voice in the chapter respectively against Tsitsipas and Djokovic in demonstration. Thus, the imbalance in the balance of power between Europeans who monopolize the Top 10 and the other players had been perfectly reflected by the first four editions, all won by the “blues”.

In addition to staging Federer’s farewell, this weekend had the pull of a surprise. Because this Sunday, the players of McEnroe, logically dominated during the first two days, transcended themselves to win the bet for the first time. As can sometimes happen in team competitions. Auger-Aliassime and Tiafoe, two brilliant representatives of the young generation, were the catalysts, the last city surfing on its brilliant fortnight at the US Open (semi-finalist).

Federer soon to be captain to compensate for the end of the Big 3?

Could this be the birth certificate of a growing rivalry cementing the sporting interest of the event? Federer dreams of it, seeing it with his agent Tony Godsick as a tennis reincarnation of the Ryder Cup in golf. Time may prove him right. Unless he underestimates his personal weight and that of his Big 3 rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the success of the moment. Because the third major advantage of this Laver Cup remains the exceptional association of these great rivals in the same team. The event produces images unthinkable during classic tournaments: seeing the Serb “coach” the Swiss and the Spaniard during their doubles is a blatant example.

However, the “Big 3” is now over. Roger Federer will be present for the 2023 edition in Vancouver, but now retired, he will not be on the court, or even on the bench, giving advice to his European teammates. “I would like to thank Björn (Borg, editor’s note), our captain. You are the king, you know it, I love you. It’s always super nice with you and I look forward to next year. I will also be there to support both teams in a different role“, he thus dropped during the trophy ceremony.

And neither Rafael Nadal nor Novak Djokovic are eternal. They have not participated in all editions since 2017 – the Mallorcan has played three Laver Cups, the Serb two – and the coaching images on the bench will not have the same impact. Certainly, the event also has the advantage of summoning the nostalgia of tennis fans and paying tribute to the history of the game with Björn Borg and John McEnroe as emblematic captains. But the silence of the Swede is not likely to unleash passions.

So to maintain the flame, wouldn’t Roger Federer be the ideal person to take up the torch on the bench of Team Europe? Given the popularity of the interested party, it would probably be the assurance of making this meeting unmissable. “I’m sure Roger will stay involved in this event one way or another and maybe one day as captain of the team. He is great at the edge of the field. He watches a lot of tennis, he loves this sport“, has also entrusted Andy Murray.

Team World won the trophy for the first time in 2022

Credit: Getty Images

Clarify its status by removing the super tie-break

In the meantime, the Swiss is confident in the future. As he likes to repeat, tennis is bigger than its most famous players. New superstars will emerge, Carlos Alcaraz is perhaps the most brilliant proof of this. It is no coincidence that the Murcian, new world number 1, was approached this year to participate in the Laver Cup. If he declined the offer for timing reasons, it’s probably only a postponement.

It remains to be seen whether the rivalries of the future and the champions involved will be as charismatic as the Big 3. The future success of the Laver Cup will necessarily depend on it, unless by then it establishes itself as a prestigious and attractive competition on its only name, as the Grand Slam tournaments are today and as the Davis Cup was. But to do this, perhaps it will be necessary to get rid of the last elements which bring it closer to an exhibition: the absence of ATP points and this super tie-break which creates a break with the classic tournament format.


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