Rod Laver is a great. But I’m not sold on the Laver Cup.

Rod Laver is a legend of world tennis having claimed 11 grand slam titles, including Wimbledon four times. Australian Laver didn’t have a conventional career due to the professional and amateur splits but ‘Rocket’ was the last man to claim the grand slam (all four major tennis titles) in the same year which sees him still held in high esteem.

His career record, which included multiple grand slam titles in both doubles formats and five Davis Cup titles, is the primary reason behind a new tournament, the Laver Cup.

But it’s a bad idea.

Whilst Hall of Famer Laver’s storied career has every right to be recognized this attempt seems haphazard. Current world number three Roger Federer, who is the key driver behind the initiative, appears to be shoe-horning an event to recognise his idol into an already jammed calendar which will, amongst other things, further benefit elite players with motives that are not quite clear.

The event, due to be staged for the first time in September 2017, features teams of six players to be modelled on golf’s popular teams-based format the Ryder Cup with ‘Europe’ playing the ‘Rest of the World.’ Let’s look at some aspects which raise concern about the proposal.

RELATIONSHIPS

In addition to Tennis Australia and Brazilian businessman Jorge Paulo Lemann the Laver Cup is supported by the management of Federer. Where this could be prickly is who benefits financially from the event? Federer broke away from IMG in 2012 and went on to start Team 8 with his agent Tony Godsick. How much revenue does each partner get? Are host venues/cities required to accept all the financial risk?

The ATP would presumably need to ensure they balance other tournaments around the planned event which could impact on the tournaments surrounding these events. Which of these may lose a drawcard to this new year? If the schedule went ahead in 2017 as this year events in St Petersburg, won by Milos Raonic in 2015, and Shenzhen, where world number eight Tomas Berdych was triumphant last year may lose their defending champ, or recent winner, if they are rested after a busy period of US Open, LC and the Davis Cup. Playing at a high level in a four week block at that time of the year, throw in the travel, and it’s pretty easy to see how the ATP 250 series events would be worse off.

Much like the Indian Premier League in cricket an event such as the Laver Cup could be out of control if Team8 run it separate from the main tours. Maybe an event over one weekend as opposed to the near two months of the IPL won’t have as much impact directly but flow on affects to other tournaments need to be considered.

Ironically Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori, who would be the number one ranked players for Europe and the Rest of the World team respectively, are both IMG clients. Would they command an appearance fee if they were released by IMG to play in the event? If so and Team8 pay for that is that investment in tennis which could be better spent elsewhere?

I think this is a huge hurdle to the viability of the tournament if the Laver Cup doesn’t start with all, or most, of the big names available it immediately loses any lustre.

MATCH-UPS

Speaking of Djokovic and Nishikori the Serbian and Japanese men would headline this event if it were tomorrow so how would the two ‘captains’ and their teams go?

Below is a look at the singles match-ups based on current rankings and head-to-head records:

Novak Djokovic (SRB) 6-2 over Kei Nishikori (JPN), Europe 1-0

Andy Murray (GBR) 4-3 over Milos Raonic (CAN) 4-3, Europe 2-0

Roger Federer (SUI) 5-2 over John Isner (USA), Europe 3-0

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 4-4 with Kevin Anderson (RSA), split record

Rafael Nadal (ESP) 3-0 over Bernard Tomic (AUS), Europe 4-0

David Ferrer (ESP) 1-1 with Jack Sock (USA) split record.

If we give each side a win in those records that are 50/50 the record has Europe 5-1 leaders.

The final two spots I have taken a liberty in going with the highest ranked players but the selections are ‘captain’s picks’ so would likely be governed by records, form and venue.

Doubles in the tournament gives Europe a further advantage given Federer and Wawrinka won their last doubles tie together in Davis Cup, however they did both opt-out of playing in the 2015 tie which the Swiss lost to Belgium.

RANKINGS AND ALL THAT

Once you get to the fifth spot, the first captain’s pick, the split in the rankings really starts to bear out in our match-up assessments and the gulf is very evident. Nadal is ranked fifth with Tomic 20th whilst Ferrer is 17 spots ahead of Sock. Steve Johnson, ranked 30, would be the only other player in the top 30 eligible for the ROTW team. Seven eligible players (none of whom have won a grand slam title) to choose from in the top 30 when your team is up against three of the greatest players in any generation and a team that has a collective 46 (!) major singles titles between them would seem some-what of a mis-match.

Interestingly, by way of comparison five years ago, entering February 2011 there would have been five players eligible in the top 30 for ROTW team with Andy Roddick, ranked eighth, the highest.

TIMING

Wimbledon winner Pat Cash notes the event’s opening in 2017 is wedged during a busy period around the US Open and the Davis Cup semi-finals.

Dependent upon who makes the Davis Cup semi-finals in that period the Laver Cup could be left lacking star names.

For example if all four of Stan Wawrinka, Roger Federer, John Isner and Jack Sock all get injuries, or exacerbate current niggles, in the period leading up to this clutch of big events. The quartet could be put out of the coming semi-final of say USA v Switzerland in the Davis Cup and the inaugural Laver Cup. If that were to occur USA’s Sam Querry would be the highest ranked player left for a Davis Cup semi-final and/or Laver Cup. With all due respect to the Las Vegas resident and his seven career singles titles, no one wants that.

The tennis calendar is jammed. Tournaments before the Australian Open are notorious for players pulling out (hello Bernard Tomic, hello) and several high profile players suffered injuries this year (Milos Raonic chief amongst them) in the opening slam.

Why are we foisting more fixtures on players who might already struggle with injury let alone form slumps at various times of the year?

WHERE IS THE WOMEN’S EVENT?

Team8 must have some female tennis clients in their early stage of operation. If they don’t one would think it would be hard for them to see the financial value of a female version of the Laver Cup. But it’s hardly a progressive option to ignore half the market.

IF NOT THE PROPOSED LAVER CUP THEN WHAT?

A tier-two Davis Cup so to speak. The mish-mash of regional qualifying across three zones is hard for some fans to follow so why not bring it together. Let’s have the regional zone winners compete in a week long tournament with the current format and have that winner of the Laver Cup be elevated to the main Davis Cup. This format should guarantee the best players in those countries takes part and provides a TV product with the scarcity which replicates promotional/relegation playoffs in various football competitions.

As mentioned previously the player/agent relationships could be a major hurdle to this concept but that’s not the only worry.

To recap even if it overcomes that, rather large agent, hurdle, there is already a packed calendar and an ever-changing broadcasting market to tackle to get the event covered.

Finally there are other problems for tennis to tackle such as doping and match-fixing allegations, maybe they are bigger priorities than the Laver Cup? The legendary player has a stadium named in his honour. Maybe that’s enough, maybe it’s not, but is an All Star-style tennis concept really the next best recognition?

This piece first appeared on From the sideline of sport

@hamishneal

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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