Laver Cup has some major issues: no autographs, no serenading, and no running America off the court. Those “count-downs” that have become so familiar at Grand Slam events to set up one point after another only turn into boos and jeers once the tournament has already been won. Earlier this month, the Laver Cup reminded the world that they would indeed have the last laugh, with Spain’s Rafael Nadal defeating Roger Federer to start off the best pairings of the professional era.
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But by putting a limit on the number of points that can be played per set, the competition has two problems. The fact that the players are limited to playing one set per set only serves to sustain a sense of competition by taking the entire tie out of the hands of a tenacious team of prodigies. And there’s the problem that no one bothered to realize that there are different rules for singles and doubles. When a player’s opponent on a doubles court is limited to one set to win, surely the difficulty becomes greater in reaching the second set, right? So everyone, it seems, is handed a problematic set: win the one set, lose the one set.
In addition to regulations on matches, the contests are divided into sets. The same rules that apply to singles apply to doubles. Unfortunately, there’s a bizarre penalty for prolonged winning streaks in doubles. When a team scores four points in a row, it’s all square at four points a set. When they win five, the points are combined into a grand total. With five points in a row, a single player can spend the whole night at the party of his opponent, but then he has to win four sets in a row just to claim the draw. It’s like forcing someone to drink 13 shots of water over the course of a 12-hour bar crawl. The fights might begin early, but the weekend is over before anyone gets home.
Far from a celebration of tennis or of greatest team of all time, the tournament has demonstrated the problems that exist when everything is listed on a spreadsheet rather than person. The Laver Cup has no appreciation for the bizarre and of course no one wants to dedicate an entire weekend of their life to watching tennis. If they did, the tennis would come after the team dinner – served in honor of the French architect, Philippe Starck – and before the open team golf – a tournament which, if a little distasteful, seems to highlight what can be accomplished when teams are made up of really competitive people.
It isn’t surprising that the tournament is unlikely to gain much traction with this format. But it’s still a failure that a classic exhibition of tennis doesn’t have a single sponsor that could give the tournament the support to stay afloat. Which leads to one of the strangest realities: the Laver Cup will just have to focus on what it can do, which is lure a star player to participate, send the tournament and the event out to the country it has been based in to serve a slightly bigger venue, and then call it a day.
The original Laver Cup in Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia, 2016. Photograph: Luke Fuda/Getty Images
While the French have long since cleaned up the tennis universe, they always seemed like a sentimental choice for the best champions of their country to join a rivalry that has lasted for generations. But in an era of historic parity, where Rafael Nadal is ranked above Roger Federer as the undisputed champ, and the Montgomerie-Laver pairing has shown that great quality can come through teams rather than individuals, there is no need for the competition to hold the same interest that it used to. Don’t get us wrong, we all love the players involved. But there are no players of our generation that can come in and rewire the enterprise the way these two have in their separate pursuits.
Eventually, no matter how many times they tweak or change it, the Laver Cup will just have to die.