It occupies a plum spot in the ATP Calendar despite technically being an exhibition. So what is the Laver Cup? How did it become so special and what does the future hold?
When tennis legends Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal, Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Roger Federer gathered together in New York in August 2016 to announce the launch of a unique team tennis tournament primarily owned by Roger Federer's management company, TEAM8, there was wild excitement.
If you didn’t know, Federer owns a stake in TEAM8, which is run by his long-time agent, Tony Godsick.
When you then consider that other investors included Tennis Australia and Jorge Paulo Lemann – a former Davis Cup player and Brazil’s richest man - you can see that the tournament had a privileged start in life.
And it continues to flourish with the help of Federer with the major sponsors of the events the Swiss star’s personal sponsors. Think Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse, Moet, On and Uniqlo.
Federer apparently took inspiration to create this tournament from golf’s Ryder Cup. Team Europe against Team World would see the best players from both ‘regions’ battle it out for the prestigious Laver Cup trophy.
And with each team’s captain being a former tennis legend – Bjorn Borg for Team Europe and John McEnroe for Team World - the event ensured it would get lots of media attention.
If that wasn’t box office enough, the cherry on the cake was the name – the Laver Cup is named after Australian tennis legend Rod Laver.
“Rod Laver represents everything that’s great about the sport of tennis, and it’s a privilege to be able to honour his achievements through the Laver Cup,” Roger Federer said at the launch.
So what exactly is The Laver Cup?
For the uninitiated, it’s a three-day tournament pitting a team of the six best tennis players from Europe against six of their counterparts from the rest of the world.
The location rotates between major cities in Europe and the rest of the world each year.
Prague, Chicago, Boston and Geneva have hosted the first four tournaments and now, we head into the fifth edition which is being hosted by the O2 Arena in London.
The unusual format allows the superstars of tennis to compete on the same team, pair up in doubles and cheer each other on from the sidelines. This year, we have the ‘Big Four’ - Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray - all playing for Team Europe.
Swedish superstar Bjorn Borg has captained Team Europe for all four editions of the Laver Cup (2017, 2018, 2019, 2021). He has been victorious every single time.
John McEnroe will be hoping that he can come out on top for the first time this year. To lose for the fifth time in a row, especially to his historic rival, wouldn’t be great for him, his team or the event in general.
The teams are chosen through a mix of their ATP Ranking and ‘captain’s picks’ - basically free choice by both captains.
Despite the star power and big backing of the Laver Cup, there have been some criticisms levelled against it.
It was said that the Laver Cup aimed to boost the popularity of tennis - a sport which is said to be losing momentum amongst the younger generations – around the globe.
To date, the Laver Cup hasn’t made any effort to travel to countries that aren’t on the ATP’s hit list already. For example, we already have a Slam and plenty of M1000s and other ATP events being held all year round in the USA.
To date, two of the five editions of the Laver Cup have been held in the USA. Not sure this equates to growing tennis globally.
Secondly, the ticket prices are said to be eye-wateringly expensive.
At first glance, they seem affordable at £18 to £385 for a single session, but the fact that they’re available as resales means they’re rumoured to be on the market for amounts up to £45,000.
How does that boost the reach of the sports amongst the younger generations? Most would argue that it does the opposite and gives the impression that tennis is out of touch and out of reach.
This year, the prices rocketed further after Roger Federer announced his retirement and at the same time stated that the Laver Cup would be his last ATP event.
It was expected that tennis fans in general, and Federer fans in particular, would want to be present at the Swiss legend’s last official event.
Whether that justifies paying tens of thousands for a ticket – especially when Federer later announced that he would not even be taking part in a singles match and only playing in the doubles – is up for debate.
Is it even right for an ‘exhibition’ event which doesn’t award rankings points to be featured on the ATP Calendar?
And is it right that the outcome of these exhibition matches now count towards the official H2H records of players? It wasn’t the case when the Laver Cup was launched but two years in, the decision was made that the H2Hs would be officially scored and the results of the first two editions of the Laver Cup were ‘retroactively’ added to ATP records.
Carrying on, is it right that an active player (in this case Roger Federer) is able to have an event that he part-owns officially part of the ATP calendar?
For now, the fact that the Big Four are playing together on the same team in Federer’s swansong means the media and fans are going gaga for all the social media content around the event.
But going forward, once the big guns have retired, will The Laver Cup still hold the same prestige it does?
Unless Federer and Nadal become captains of Team Europe, will people pay megabucks to see the NextGen battle it out in an exhibition?
There is no doubt that having players like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray on the same side - chest bumping, hugging and screaming out for each other - is a thrill for tennis fans to see.
The fact that the tickets are in some casing costing way more than tickets to the finals of a Slam is mind-boggling.
It remains to be seen if the event can survive beyond the Big Four, Big Three, Big Two or Roger Federer himself.
Vancouver and Berlin have been confirmed as the hosts for 2023 and 2024 respectively.
Whether the Laver Cup, with its iconic black courts and gilt-coloured branding, reaches out to non-tennis nations, whether Team World ever manage to get their hands on the trophy, or whether ticket prices come down to affordable levels remains to be seen.
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