There will be plenty of intrigue at the Laver Cup exhibition this weekend in Prague.
But the first thing that stands out is the court.
The ball should stand out nicely against that backdrop, for television. As long as the players themselves don’t wear black!
Less intriguing may be the outcome, with “Team World” without some big potential weapons in Kei Nishikori, Juan Martin del Potro and Milos Raonic. Top player Nick Kyrgios is not a healthy fellow, either.
The first nomination for Team World at the upcoming inaugural Laver Cup has been announced.
And it’s Canadian Milos Raonic.
Players officially qualify with their post-Wimbledon rankings, although they also have to agree to play.
“I can’t wait to be part of the first ever Laver Cup – it’s a tremendous opportunity and I’m really looking forward to being part of this unique team competition,” Raonic was quoted as saying in the press release. “Taking on the Europeans is no easy task – they’ve already got Roger and Rafa on board and we’ve all seen how well they’ve started 2017.”
The Laver Cup is scheduled to take place Sept. 22-24 in Prague, Czech Republic. Roger Federer (whose management company is putting it on) and Rafael Nadal are already on board. No. 1 Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic have yet to sign on the dotted line.
It could be a busy period for Raonic, especially if he goes deep into the US Open draw. The weekend after that, Canada plays India in a World Group playoff tie at home in Canada. Raonic didn’t play Davis Cup at all in 2016 (or the Olympics, for that matter). And he also missed the tie against Great Britain in February.
After a week in Davis Cup mode, Raonic would then head to Prague for the Laver Cup and then, presumably, hit the fall Asian swing.
John McEnroe, who worked with Raonic last summer and with whom he remains friends, is the captain of “Team Rest of the World”.
“Milos is incredibly impressive, both as a player and a person, and I’m very pleased he’s committed to playing the Laver Cup in September. I’m looking forward to working with him again – he’s a total professional, very dedicated and does everything he can to be as good as he can be,” McEnroe said in the press release. “I’m looking forward to helping bring out the best in him and the rest of Team World, and am convinced we can defeat Team Europe in this exciting new competition.”
You have to figure they “embellished” those quotes, right? Who actually speaks like that?
Home-country favorite Tomas Berdych will also play, if he qualifies via ranking. If not, captain Björn Borg could always select him with one of his two captain’s picks.
There once was a tournament similar to this, on a smaller scale. It was called the World Team Cup. If you never heard of it, you’re not alone. Held in Düsseldorf, Germany on clay the week before the French Open, it essentially was an exhibition event by the end – a way to get in some preparation matches without stressing about results.
From 1975 until its demise in 2012, The World Team Cup went through various sponsors. Ultimately, it failed to attract the marquee players – and thus the sponsors. Most top players don’t play a tournament the week before a Slam.
They converted it into an ATP 250 event, but after failing to secure a sponsor in only the second year, its license was transferred to the Geneva Open for 2015.
The problem, of course, would be to find a date – and a consensus location – on the already-crowded ATP Tour calendar. But being an ATP-backed tournament, it would run into fewer roadblocks than the ITF encounters with Davis Cup.
Alphabet soup tug of war
And that’s the crux of this whole thing: the eternal tug of war within the alphabet soup of the tennis establishment. With no overarching authority to incentivize all to work together for the benefit of the game, each side is trying to get an edge over the other.
The ATP is looking for additional revenue streams and to expand its brand – and break the ITF’s current monopoly on team events, as a bonus. The ITF, theoretically, is supposed to look out for the sport. But Davis Cup is a major revenue generator – and its biggest chip to play in that ongoing card game.
With the century-old Davis Cup format under various forms of attack from all sides, there’s an opening there the ATP wants to drive through.
Grand Slam Cup, RIP
It has happened before – except the situation was reversed.
The ITF decided it wanted to take on the ATP World Championships, and came up with a concept called the “Grand Slam Cup.”
The Grand Slam Cup tried a few dates: first in December and then in September, around the time the new Laver Cup is planned. Of course, the participants earned no ATP Tour points (just as the Davis Cup awards no ATP points now. Fed Cup players earn no WTA Tour ranking points).
It died in 1999. Posthumously, the ATP decided to soften its stand and factor in the results after all. (Insert your skeptical Rafa one-eyebrow raise here). Officially, it was merged with the ATP Tour Finals, which also were held in Germany at the time.
Laver Cup player issues
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail also reports the Laver Cup is having some challenges.
On the ticket-buying side, all is well. The event, to be held in Prague, sold out quickly. The venture is supported by both the Australian Open and the US Open, which are putting their marketing acumen behind it.
You know Roger Federer is all in; he and his management company are putting it on. Obviously his renaissance this season can only help the cause. But convincing five other top players to take part isn’t proving quite as simple.
Japanese star Kei Nishikori all but confirmed to the Daily Mail he’s likely to pass. “Maybe I try to play, but mostly no,” he told the newspaper. The dates come just before the fall Asian hard-court swing. That’s Nishikori’s toughest, busiest part of the season, right at the time when the body is least durable.
The Daily Mail also reports Federer’s countryman Stan Wawrinka, as well as Novak Djokovic, have yet to confirm.
With the “Europe vs. the Rest of the World” format, the scales tip heavily towards Europe for alternatives. On the “rest of the world” side, they have to hope Canadian Milos Raonic, Argentine Juan Martin del Potro or Aussie Nick Kyrgios is keen.
How this reported new event fits in – and where it might fit in – is the next question to be answered.