Laver Cup: How better event date would ease player scheduling problems

‘It would be a shame if this thing continues to exist on the calendar. It needs a stand-alone time (date) so that all players will feel that scheduling wise, it’s not an issue.’ — Team World captain John McEnroe

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You may have heard. John McEnroe has opinions.

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His passion for tennis is unrivalled and the direction the Laver Cup needs to travel to maintain its world-class status — and appointment viewing to witness the game’s greats and emerging stars — consumes him as much as guiding Team World in defence of its title against Team Europe at Rogers Arena.

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It’s why the hardest serve in the Laver Cup has come from McEnroe. It was a howitzer, like a blazing ace.

Aside from the event coming to Canada for the first time in its six-year history, McEnroe firmly believes it needs direction to maintain momentum. It can’t lose players to individual schedules, or injury, to take some lustre away from what has become a bucket-list pursuit for most competitors.

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Team World captain John McEnroe (right) and vice-captain Patrick McEnroe watch Felix Auger-Aliassime go through a Laver Cup practice session at Rogers Arena. Photo by Matthew Stockman /Getty Images for Laver Cup

After all, without the retired Roger Federer, injured Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray taking competitive breaks following the Grand Slam season — plus world No. 4 Holger Rune and No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas withdrawing from Vancouver — is there reason for Laver Cup concern?

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McEnroe thinks so.

Fans are paying a premium to see the best players in the world, not just some of them.

“This is a great test for an event that I believe in,” said McEnroe, the captain for Team World. “It’s the opportunity. We don’t have these all-time legends, but you could have future Grand Slam winners all over the place. You don’t know. And that’s exciting to stand out and hopefully tennis will realize the gift is was given.

“By having Rod Laver and Roger Federer associated with a team event like this, I think it would be a shame if this thing continues to exist on the calendar. It needs a stand-alone time (date) so that all players will feel that scheduling wise, it’s not an issue.”

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Captain John McEnroe of Team World reacts during Laver Cup match between Ben Shelton and Arthur Fils of Team Europe on Friday at Rogers Arena. Photo by Matthew Stockman /Getty Images for Laver Cup

Could tennis go the way of major sporting leagues and hold a midseason Laver Cup that wouldn’t interfere with Grand Slams, ensure attendance and also prep top players? Or, how about after the Australian Open. It won’t happen overnight, but it needs addressing. Scheduling shouldn’t be a problem.

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“It has become one,” stressed McEnroe. “I don’t want to get into the minutiae of why because it’s too boring and too frustrating, actually, to have watched this over the course of my professional career, watching tennis shoot themselves in the foot, in my opinion. 

“Hopefully, they won’t do it with this, because I’ve seen them do it on numerous other occasions.”

The event could be categorized as an exhibition by top talent, but the fire of desire is obviously burning because Felix Auger-Aliassime and Gael Monfils had testy exchanges Friday before the Canadian claimed a straight-sets victory.

“Felix was awesome,” said Team World vice-captain Patrick McEnroe. “He had a great week of practice and I was super excited to be back here with him, knowing he’s had some struggles (first-round exits at the U.S. Open, French Open and Australian Open).

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“To see him pick it up every day and play with great authority — and also stand up for himself in a pressure situation — is exactly what he should do. Monfils is great for tennis. I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this competition since it started.

“I’ve never seen one match where guys didn’t give 110 per cent. It’s still played with a certain fun, because it’s a team aspect and they’re pros and play to the crowd, but I’ve never, ever thought this was an exhibition. I’ve never seen one play like it was that.”

As a Montreal native, who has previously played in Vancouver, Auger-Aliassime believes the Laver Cup will encourage more to get involved and support the event.

“The last few years it’s kind of a buzz about Canadian tennis overall, and I think it’s nice to bring this kind of event here, to have all these great players play in Vancouver and also encourage, you know, kids,” said Auger-Aliassime.

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“To see kids here at our practice, kids from around here, who play in different clubs, is great to have that. I would have loved to see that when I was growing up.”

Milos Raonic is serving as an alternate for Team World. His stature in the game commands respect and he knows what the Laver Cup means to those who follow the game and its stars.

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Milos Raonic of Canada returns a shot against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece during their Men’s Singles First Round match on Day One of the 2023 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug. 28, 2023 in the Flushing neighbourhood of the Queens borough of New York City. Photo by Clive Brunskill /Getty Images

“I think it’s a big deal,” he said. “I don’t think you have this thing going on 10 years ago that you can really consider. The last time I played here was Davis Cup at UBC (2017) in front of 2,500 people. This is a whole different thing.”

Maybe that’s why John McEnroe still has a boyish devotion to the sport. He admits to being nervous coaching Laver Cup at court-side, and part of him still wishes he could pick up a racquet and strut his stuff on the court.

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“I always feel that desire in a way, but then I look in the mirror and see the colour of my hair, and it’s, ‘How about doubles?’,” he laughed. “The ball is coming and I barely see it and then it’s, ‘How about sitting on the (coaching) bench?’

“But I really enjoy this event. How often do I get to be a part of something like this? It’s impossible not to be nervous. That’s part of what makes it so exciting and unpredictable.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com


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