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With fourth Laver Cup in the books, four ideas for its future
How can the event improve itself moving forward, after Europe's 14-1 beatdown of Team World?
Published Sep 26, 2021
It was fitting that the clinching shot of Team Europe’s 2021 Laver Cup victory came off the racquet of Andrey Rublev. It happened in the form of a crunching crosscourt volley winner, giving Rublev and Alexander Zverev a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 10-3 win over the Team World duo of Reilly Opelka and Denis Shapovalov—a result that gave Team Europe an insurmountable 14-1 lead.
“These guys are very serious,” said Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg. “We joking now, because we have a good team spirit, and we have been joking for a week. But when it comes down to play match points and sets, we are all very serious. That's what's all about in tennis.”
Rublev was responsible for six of those 14 points, and he won them across singles and doubles matches. That the 23-year-old did this speaks well to what proved a deceptive set of skills. Rublev’s Friday singles win, a 4-6, 6-3, 11-9 triumph over Diego Schwartzman, was a familiar case of Rublev’s grit and groundstrokes just barely squeaking past an equally tenacious rival to earn a single point for Team Europe.
The surprise was Rublev’s laser-sharp doubles play. Saturday evening, Rublev paired with Stefanos Tsitsipas to subdue the Team World duo of Nick Kyrgios and John Isner, 6-7 (8), 6-3, 10-4. Cracking missile-like returns and groundstrokes off both flanks all match long, as well as making his share of dart-like volleys, Rublev took things to a new level in the match-deciding tiebreaker and helped his team win two points (first day Laver Cup matches count for one point, while day two matches count for two and day three's for three).
Partnered in Sunday afternoon’s first match with Zverev versus another big server in Opelka and the always dangerous Shapovalov, Rublev again proved the king of the court, his flat, concussive arsenal repeatedly breaking open rallies to earn the three points that carried Team Europe to the title for the fourth time in four tries. It was an impressive Laver Cup debut.
“Of course on the tennis court was amazing atmosphere, amazing stadium with amazing crowd full of people, which all of us was missing a lot, especially after such a tough time,” said Rublev
From its very conception—Roger Federer honoring Rod Laver—this event has left a compelling mark. Initially, Laver Cup was aided by the charisma of contemporary superstars Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. But the high quality of this year’s tennis proved that longstanding legends are not the only attraction.
Still, as the fourth edition of Laver Cup concludes, here are four concepts to ponder moving forward:
- As battle-tested Laver Cup competitors like Nick Kyrgios fade out, it will be terrific to see new stars take part in the competition and display their mix of shots and styles. “It's been a good run for me,” said Kyrgios. I know there is some young, talented guys that are just better. You know, they are more versatile, more athletic. I have had a good run.”
For Team Europe, start with electrifying young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Add in a pair of sharp Italians, shot-maker Lorenzo Musetti and powerful Jannik Sinner. Then there’s Team World, where we await the further blossoming of America’s most complete player of recent years, Sebastian Korda, tactical wizard Jenson Brooksby and rock-solid Brandon Nakashima. All six of these players likely have at least ten more years of great tennis ahead of them. Surely, they will have plenty of chances to sparkle at this event and join forces with men who all other weeks are rivals rather than comrades.
As Matteo Berrettini said, “Yeah, obviously we are playing for ourselves when we are on tour, but I think it's so nice to play for a team like this. We more or less know each other since a long time, so looking at what we achieved together, but also these guys, they achieve more than me, but they give me motivation to improve.”
- Such is the format of Laver Cup that Roger Federer can play well into his 40s—perhaps more so in doubles as time goes on. Why not give fans as many chances as possible to witness his brilliance? We hope this also remains the case for Djokovic and Nadal.
- Captains Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe have unassailable credentials and could probably hold their posts forever. Will they want to? Might there come a time for new leaders? What about Jim Courier, Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick at the helm of Team World? Consider the possibility of Goran Ivanisevic for Team Europe. Or even Federer. Then again, there’s nothing wrong if Borg and McEnroe remain, each providing a strong continuity to Laver and so much tennis history. “I love being on the bench, I love supporting these guys,” said McEnroe. “There is really nothing better. I think a lot of us have been on a team at one point in our lives, so any time you're out there cheering on your buddies that you see every week and get to do it in this atmosphere in front of a home crowd was incredible.”
- Ponder the possibility of adding women into the mix. Team World stars could include Ash Barty, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Bianca Andreescu, Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff. Team Europe: Simona Halep, Barbora Krejcikova, Iga Swiatek, Emma Raducanu, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza. Fancy a Team World captained by Martina Navratilova, Team Europe led by Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Alter the format to close it all out with a mixed doubles match. These are the kind of events tennis needs to continue capturing the sporting spotlight.