It is now a week on from the debut of the Laver Cup, which Europe won by a score of 15 points to 9. The victory was sealed for the Europeans by the racquet of Roger Federer, who defeated Nick Kyrgios in a thrilling final match that saw him save a match point. It was fitting for Federer who was one of the chief architects of the competition that he should take part in the final match. Fitting also that it was Nick Kyrgios who had shown such commitment throughout should be given the opportunity to once again test himself against Federer on the biggest stage. But, was the inaugural Laver Cup a success overall?
‘Fedal’ on the doubles court
Getting Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to play doubles together was unquestionably one of the highlights in Prague. Ever since both had announced their intention to compete together it was a potential pairing that had fans’ mouths watering. Their appearance together was delayed until Saturday, with Tomas Berdych joining Rafael Nadal on Friday night. That pairing lost to Sock and Kyrgios, but when the main attraction of Federer and Nadal stepped out on court on Saturday evening the atmosphere was understandably electric. Facing off against Sam Querrey and 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Jack Sock they took the first set to leave the crowd in raptures. Querrey and Sock were there to do more than just make up the numbers though and they raced through the second set to level it. Ultimately, Federer and Nadal were able to pull through in the match tiebreak, winning it 10-6.
Even had they lost, however, it would have done little to dampen the brilliance of seeing them together. They were far from a perfect doubles team, unsurprising considering they are more used to competing against rather than with each other. But to have the roaring topspin forehand of Nadal paired with the silky skills of Federer was an astonishing sight for tennis fans anywhere. Interestingly it also meant that each of the big 4 had played doubles alongside one of his colleagues. Djokovic remains the most prolific having competed with Murray and Nadal previously, as well as Stan Wawrinka. But with another Laver Cup to come next year and Europe potentially able to field an even stronger team, perhaps we will see even more interesting doubles pairings.
Surprisingly close contest
Few gave the representatives of Team World much hope against the might of Team Europe. Even robbed of Djokovic, Wawrinka and Murray, who between them hold 18 Slams, Europe brought a combined total of 36 Slams to Prague. Team World brought only one, and in doubles not singles. Going into the tournament Team Europe’s players had combined for 73 victories against Team World’s, whilst having tasted defeat just 24 times themselves. But World put in an impressive and competitive performance. Even on day 1 when they lost all three singles matches, every set went to a tiebreak. In the doubles World outperformed Europe, winning two of the three matches. And had Nick Kyrgios been able to convert his match point against Federer the score and result could have been very different.
That was doubtless a relief for the tournament’s organisers. Whilst the appeal of seeing the titans representing Europe was great, few would have been excited by a whitewash. With the Laver Cup hoping to become a tennis institution, it was important that there be engaging tennis alongside the glitz and glamour and Team World did well to provide that. They may just have to work even harder on home turf next year.
Scoring system could be improved
The only real criticism of the Laver Cup was the scoring system. Whilst the bold decision to award more points for wins later in the tournament kept it interesting, further improvements could have been made. One option would be to award points for sets won, as this rewards players and teams for good performances even in defeat. Another major benefit would be maintaining the closeness of competition for as long as possible. There would also be no cause to replace the increasing number of points awarded for later victories, as this could be easily incorporated.
Overall there can be little doubt that the inaugural Laver Cup was a success. Though the tennis calendar is busy, the Laver Cup felt like a worthwhile addition. From the pairing of Federer and Nadal on a doubles court to the competitive tennis displayed to the slick looking black court, the Laver Cup worked. But, there are struggles ahead for the fledgling competition. The timing of the tournament so close to the Davis Cup semifinals will doubtless attract criticism if the two competitions begin to compete with each other. It is not the place of the Laver Cup to try and usurp the august traditions of the Davis Cup, even if that tournament does need restructuring.
And next year the Laver Cup will need to once again attract strong line ups. Fortunately Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka will likely be returned to the top of the game then, so even if Federer and Nadal do not play again Europe will not want for star power. But there will be little appeal in seeing a clash of players ranked outside the top 20, so the Laver Cup must ensure it remains an attractive proposition to the stars of the game. But in truth, those troubled waters are far off if they appear at all. For now, let us look back and enjoy the memories of what was a great success.
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