in defence of the laver cup

A points to defend that’s actually a defence. Love it x

yasmin stefanie laver cup atp tennis

As a lot of you may know if you follow me on Insta or Twitter, this past weekend I had one of the best weekends in my whole entire life ever because I went to Geneva to attend the 2019 Laver Cup – all three days, all five sessions, all twelve matches. Like, I did not move from my seat the entire time I was allowed to be in it.

The Laver Cup can be quite divisive for tennis fans and followers, whether it’s for the entire tournament or for some nitty gritty details that people can’t agree with. I’ve always been pro-Laver Cup from the first day it started in Prague in 2017 (saying pro-Laver Cup makes this sound like some kinda Br*xit debate 🤮 sorry) and I obviously wouldn’t have gone to the tournament if I didn’t already love it and enjoy watching it just on TV, but I had super high expectations for my LC experience because I’ve always seen it as a bit of me, and it really did live up to, if not exceed those insanely high expectations.

I hope this won’t come off as super partisan – I do have some questions and criticisms of the tournament – but I do genuinely just love it and think it is worth defending from some of the shit it gets, because I see it get a lot of shit on Twitter that it really doesn’t deserve, especially not to the extent I’ve seen.

it shows us what we’ve longed to see and know about the sport’s top male stars

We get an insight into the minds of some of the world’s best athletes and their most intimate thoughts in tough moments in matches. None of us are going to forget that moment when Federer started swearing about whilst giving Lil Z peptalk before the ten point match tiebreak to decide whether Team Europe or Team World won this year’s LC. Would you ever associate classy, former GQ man of the year, one of Vogue editor Anna Wintour’s (who made an appearance over the weekend and did a coin toss! I was starstruck from my seat) favourite people with swearing? I know he does it mid match but something felt very liberating and relatable about Fed during that pep talk and it made me like him a lot more. Even more interesting in that chat as he, Sascha and Nadal walked to the locker room was the overwhelming focus on positivity from both halves of Fedal. That’s all they wanted from Lil Z and wanted to eliminate all negativity. It shows us how they think in big moments and what zone they go into to tough it out in the latter stages of important, tough matches. It also shows us how they think of some of their opponents on the tour – that chat can’t not have a takeaway that some of the guys in the locker room see Sascha as someone who gets negative in those moments in a match, and so his opponents would use that against him to hang in there knowing he’ll get negative, implode and lose.

It brings on-court coaching into the men’s tour, especially the upper levels of it, in some kinda way. I’ve had some conversations with friends before about OCC on the ATP Tour and always found it amusing to wonder what it would look like for Ivan Ljubicic to run onto court, kneel down in front of Roger and start telling him how to win a match (it makes me feel a bit shit writing that because it sounds like it would be a novelty for a man to have someone come tell him what to do yet it isn’t for women on the WTA tour – that’s a discussion for another day but please don’t take it in that way) and in a way we get to see it here at the Laver Cup. I think it’s more of a novelty because when you think of current tennis players who are talked about as GOATs, transcend the sport, and are not just athletes but to an extent celebrities in their own right – Serena, Roger and Rafa – you’ve never seen any of them receive coaching to do what they do, because Serena doesn’t use it even though it’s allowed on the WTA Tour. We’ve never seen these elite athletes being given advice about how to win a match whilst they’re actually in the midst of plating that match, we’ve never heard their thought processes in conversation in those moments. It’s of course even better hearing Rafa coaching Roger and vice versa, hearing what one will advise the other to do, seeing how they process each other’s advice, agree with it and discuss it. It’s also interesting to see the dynamics in the teams, like how nobody in Team Europe really feels like they can coach Roger or Rafa so it’s mostly just those two coaching each other. Seeing how Kyrgios bigs up all his teammates and will live and die with their every point from the sofa, get up to come to their bench and hype them up and almost every changeover.

And then there are just the funny moments we didn’t know we needed to see until we saw them. I’m sure I will speak for everyone who watched the LC last weekend, or even just everyone who saw this clip, when I say that Nadal and everyone else laughing at Tstisipas for not understanding doubles hand signals on Saturday night was one of the highlights of this year’s edition of the tournament. It’s even funnier because at the start Nadal is struggling to get his words out because he’s laughing so much as he’s trying to explain it, and nothing is funnier than those moments where you can’t finish your sentence because you’re laughing before you get to the end. Coupled with everyone, especially Federer, stood behind the bench cracking tf up too. What a moment, we need the LC just for these bits.

yasmin stefanie laver cup atp tennis

we get to see friendship and camaraderie in a sport that’s so alone and usually 1 v 1 (or 2 v 2 for dubs)

The Laver Cup is a bit like a lads weekend away. Twelve ATP guys go off to play this completely different, separate event for one weekend only in a different city every year. They spend all year playing ‘normal’ knockout tournaments for ranking points, they stop off for a weekend in September after the last Slam of the year to have a load of fun together, and then they go back to the normal tour grind for the rest of the season. It’s like taking time off work to go on a lads or gals holiday, and then going back to your normal, mundane job once the weekend is over. They’re all having fun. They’re going to the photo-ops and the gala and the public appearances in the few days before the Laver Cup and exploring the host city, then they spend the weekend cheering each other on courtside from the benches, then they drink together once the tournament is done – whether that’s a champagne shower for winning or a beer to drown the sorrows of losing. I absolutely love this aspect of it, seeing them all hang out and come together and support each other when any other day of the season they’d be on opposite sides of the net, facing off at tour level and mostly sticking to their teams to practice between matches.

We watch players form new bonds and strengthen existing ones in real time. Of course there are obvious tour friendships like Roger and Rafa, or tour friendships which are real brotherhood type bonds like Kyrgios and Sock, but it’s so lovely watching these players bring their peers into those friendships for the weekend, and form new ones with players they otherwise might not have been able to get to know so well. Team World are incredible at banding together even though more half of this year’s team was made up of a real strong friendship of guys who will even hang out in off season (Kygs, Sock, Isner, Thompson). They still brought Shapo and Raonic in, and embraced them as though they’d been part of their group for years too. And every single time I looked over at the Team Europe sofa, Roger and Rafa were sat together on the end chatting. They didn’t shut up all weekend long. They had a proper natter every single time they were both sat on that sofa. Who even has that much to make conversation about? It’s like when you see one of your friends after months and have to give them a proper life catchup rundown. These things are nothing but lovely and heartwarming to see when we’re so used to these guys all being rivals, playing each other week in week out, in a sport that is all about head to heads.

it can be easier to get behind

The scoring format is clever and works so well for this tournament to keep the entire weekend competitive. Especially when people continue to make the argument that the teams are pretty lopsided in terms of the rankings of all of the players within them. And we saw it this year – Europe had been leading the way for the first two days and then, on the final day when matches were worth three points, Team World won the first two matches of the day and came within one match from the trophy, whilst Europe were two matches away. Ofc we knew Europe won those, but how much more fun were Federer/Isner and Zverev/Raonic because of it? A team will never be down and out because they could lose loads in the first couple of days and then do a clean sweep on the third and final day. You could argue that Taylor Fritz wouldn’t have beaten Dominic Thiem on any given day in say a third round of an ATP500, but on day three of the Laver Cup when three whole points are up for Team World to add to their tally, he did.

The big names make the tournament, and they make it to the tournament. The tournament would potentially die without Federer and one or multiple of the big three/four/five joining him in Team Europe. Everyone lost it even just a little bit when he played dubs with Rafa in 2017 and with Novak last year. We love seeing him and Rafa coaching each other. So even though the current survival of the Laver Cup whilst in its early years may depend on these top guys being there, they all do make the effort to be there. They love it. I remember last year when Dominic Thiem chose to play one of the ATP250s in Metz or St Petersburg, which he WON!!, after he won it he said that in a year he didn’t even wanna be there defending that title and those points, he wanted to be back at the Laver Cup like he had been in 2017. It definitely comes off like an event that players get FOMO from, especially if they’ve played it once before and might not be playing it a year later. Even players like Nick Kyrgios, he is literally the Federer of Team World. I can’t imagine World without Kygs on their team. He absolutely shines in Laver Cup because it’s a tournament that is absolutely a bit of him – he loves playing as part of a team, even better when that team includes some of his besties like Sock and Isner, and he loves getting up on big stages to play the best of the best players of the world like Federer. And let me tell you, seeing Federer/Kyrgios in person for the first time at the Laver Cup exceeded all my expectations, it is the dream matchup to get to see in person and that match of all matches to see them match up was perfect. And something I’ve said before, ngl can’t remember if this was on Twitter or just to someone in a message, it says a lot about the Laver Cup that players will risk the start to their Asian swing, and risk an injury or early loss or fatigue just to play in the LC. We’ve seen early losses, retirements from matches and just straight up withdrawals with injury from a good handful of last weekend’s Laver Cup players this week, and I honestly don’t think any of them would’ve given up the Laver Cup just to go further in Chengdu or Zhuhai or whatever. The Laver Cup is that fun for the players that they’ll risk an early loss at the start of the Asian swing to go play in Europe or America or wherever the weekend before their normal ATP tournament starts.

It’s the one tournament I can recommend to everyone who doesn’t usually watch tennis to watch. It’s actually how my first year uni flat bonded, Fedal were playing doubles together in the first edition a couple of years ago and it fell on the first weekend of freshers when we’d all been living together for only a week, and we all sat together and watched them play doubles that evening because it was such a big deal not just for tennis but for sport. I have friends who have watched different matches each of the three years it’s been on and not one person has disliked it when they’ve watch it, it was so easy for everyone to get into for the reasons mentioned above – it contains big stars they’ve heard of going against each other and also supporting each other, and the scoring format with not just the points on offer per day but also the super tense match tiebreak third set makes the stakes higher and gets you more invested because where there’s more to gain, there’s also more to lose for whichever team and player loses each match. It’s the ultimate tournament for tennis watching snobs or virgins, or even just the casual viewer who doesn’t watch tour events. Trust me, recommend them the LC and they’ll love it.

yasmin stefanie laver cup atp tennis

i’m not not going to address the criticisms it has received though

Adding women. This is something I’ve always longed for the Laver Cup to include since day one, and even more so after the Hopman Cup was binned off for the ATP Cup 🤮. But, after seeing all the suggestions and fantasy team pics for the ‘King Cup’ this past week – a women’s version of the LC people have been imagining – I’ve realised I’d love to see the women’s only version of it as well as the men’s only version. And then I saw this tweet which made me realise I want the same thing – a Laver Cup for the guys, a King Cup for the gals, and a Hopman Cup replacement/style mixed tournament – though I’d want my HC replacement to be Laver Cup style, still Europe v World all sat on the sofas cheering each other on, playing singles and doubles together. Though they’d definitely need more than just six per team, maybe ten a team and longer for the tournament to be played out. Specifics aside, I just want to see the Laver Cup, the women’s equivalent, and the combined gender version. And with the shambles of team tournaments at the moment, these three would be great inclusions and/or replacements.

The ATP link up. I still don’t fully get it myself. How associated are they? Here’s my two cents though. I, like everyone else, don’t think LC matches (especially ones from before it even became associated with the ATP???) should be include in players’ h2h records because it’s a different scoring format in the matches, they’re being coached by their captains and/or teammates, and there are different pressures and stakes depending on which match is being played – like, Fed/Isner or Zverev/Raonic had more on the line than say Fognini/Sock or Tsitsipas/Fritz on day one. Lil Z might have lost that match were it played on the Friday and only worth one point, but he didn’t lose it when it was the final match of the whole weekend and decided which team won. I will say, I like the fact that whatever the association with the ATP is, it gives the tournament access to the ATP’s umpires and physios. Who didn’t want to see Mo Lahyani at the Laver Cup? He fit right in. And it’s better for everyone with the physios, as we saw last weekend when two players got injured and pulled out of their Sunday matches, one of whom is now missing the entire Asian swing. I completely understand why the ATP would want some sort of link up with the Laver Cup – the content from it goes viral. As the Tennis Podcast said this week, you consume the Laver Cup as much as you just watch it. You wanna see the Fedal moment on TV or in person, but then you wanna go straight to Twitter to see the responses and funny captions and memes about that exact Fedal moment seconds later. Of course the ATP wanna get in on that viral factor and be able to post about the tournament because they have an association with it, but there needs to be clear boundaries.

yasmin stefanie laver cup atp tennis

in conclusion

Because apparently I think I’m writing an essay x
Nah, I just wanna sum up my thoughts and my defence of the LC and what they could do better.

The Laver Cup works so well because it’s a novelty. A men’s, a women’s and a combined event would definitely be as far as this concept could stretch. Three days each, maybe a few more for the mixed one per tournament per year would be enough. It would lose its magic if we got to see too much of it too often. And it would lose its magic if some of the unique features about it were introduced to the normal tour, or it happened multiple times a season (I’m talking the actual men’s Laver Cup here. It’s a bit like Love Island – do they rly have to do a Winter version? The Summer one is enough, don’t rinse something dry or it could lose its novelty that makes it a success). As much as I’d love to see Fedal playing doubles together every other week on the ATP tour, it would lose its novelty and wouldn’t be a special, rare occasion anymore.

They should be clear about what they are and proud of what they are. They don’t have to be an official ATP tournament with h2h and ranking points or whatever (I know they don’t have the latter – yet), I think it’s fine for them to share resources with the ATP – they get their umpires and physios and marketing, the ATP get to use Laver Cup content which gives guaranteed hits and clicks – and be mentioned as something happening in the calendar that weekend that some of the ATP players might be playing as opposed to the other lil tournaments like Metz. It should be considered and recognised as something big that is there, but that shouldn’t make it and its matches fully ATP official and verified. They definitely shouldn’t have to follow ATP rules and sanctions or whatever, as I know this has been an issue this year with the Kyrgios investigations the ATP had to do and lots of people questioned why they only released their conclusions and findings after he’d played the Laver Cup which was now associated with them. I call the Laver Cup and exhibition, and I LOVE IT. There’s nothing wrong with it being an exho, that doesn’t mean they don’t care and don’t want to do everything they can to get their respective teams the win. You lot know my dream is to use my journo degree to go into tennis coverage and being totally honest, if there was one tournament in the whole tennis world and calendar that I had to say was my big dream and goal to get to work on, it’s this one. It’s the Laver Cup.

Well there ya go. Please stop bagging on the Laver Cup! Those two criticisms aside, I see nothing wrong with it and actually can’t see what’s not to like otherwise.

Catch up on all my other tennis posts here!


Yasmin

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