If six of the top ten players the world team up to face off in a Laver Cup in a storied sports city, on foreign soil, will the sports world pay attention?
If six world-class players, outside of the Top 10, unite to attempt a classic upset, will the sports world pay attention?
We will find out.
After a pandemic-induced year-long delay, the fourth edition of the Laver Cup begins this Friday afternoon in sports rabid Boston, Massachusetts. Team Europe looks to claim the cup for the fourth consecutive time while Team World tries to finally win it for the first time. As the teams prepare to renew their developing rivalry, numerous questions remain unanswered.
2021 Laver Cup
Team Europe Without the Big 3?
For the first time in the event’s five-year history, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic are all absent. Two of the three have competed in each of the earlier iterations of the event. At the same time, Team Europe boasts four of the top five players in the world.
World #2 and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev headlines a team that includes #3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, #4 Alexander Zverev, and #5 Andrey Rublev. By ranking, this trio should be able to headline any tennis event. World #7 Matteo Berrettini and #10 Casper Ruud round out the powerful European squad.
However, megastars Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have dominated the game for nearly 20 years. For tennis enthusiasts, this year’s Team Europe names are well known. Whether they can capture wider attention remains to be seen.
With the aging but still incredibly popular European stars absent, can the Laver Cup matches generate substantial interest?
Will Rankings Hold Up?
On paper, Team Europe dominates Team World. Felix Auger-Aliassime is Team World’s highest-ranked player at #11. He is also ranked below Team Europe’s lowest-ranked player.
Yes, Team Europe is so stacked that their “worst” player, Casper Ruud is ranked higher than Team World’s highest-ranked player.
However, Team Europe and Team World will square off on the court inside the TD Bank Garden in Boston, not on paper. Team World’s Denis Shapovolov, Diego Schwartzman, Reilly Opelka, and John Isner are all ranked inside the Top 25 and are no strangers to trying to pull upsets.
The sixth Team World member is Nick Kyrigos, chosen by Captain John McEnroe despite being ranked #95 in the world. While holding a much lower ranking, Kyrigos is hyper-talented and absolutely loves Laver Cup competition. He holds a 4-3 record in Lavery Cup matches and looks to add to his win total this weekend.
So, will the rankings hold up in Boston?
In the Shadow of the Ryder Cup?
For the first time, the 2021 Laver Cup will be held the same weekend as golf’s biannual Ryder Cup. Often billed as the tennis version of golf’s Ryder Cup, Laver Cup organizers look to capitalize on the drama of team play.
Like golf, professional tennis is a sport of individual stars. The team format of the Laver Cup brings great excitement by bringing individual stars together in a common cause just like the more historic and prestigious Ryder Cup. At least informally, the events target similar viewers and observers.
In the United States, the Laver Cup is relegated to Tennis Channel while the Ryder Cup dominates NBC television for three days. Golf stops in darkness, which can help viewership at the night sessions of the tennis event. Still, this scheduling hiccup may prove costly to ratings.
Can the Laver Cup matches draw attention and eyeballs away from the Ryder Cup? Will the Laver Cup lose casual viewers to their more established golf counterpart?
Will Experience Matter?
While Team Europe brings higher ranked players with more experience in Grand Slam semi-finals and finals, they bring very little Laver Cup experience. In fact, Team Europe brings the youngest Laver Cup roster in history to the competition in Boston.
These matches can ride on emotion. The format of face-paced super-tiebreakers in lieu of third sets lends itself to lightning-quick momentum swings. 25% of Laver Cup matches are doubles matches where Team World has dominated by going 7-2 over the first three iterations of this event.
Team World’s Denis Shapovolov, Diego Schwartzman, John Isner, and Nick Kyrigos all bring Laver Cup experience into this weekend. Four-time competitors John Isner and Nick Kyrigos will continue their streak of playing in every Laver Cup ever held. Shapovolov and Schwartzman return after playing in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
For Team Europe, only Alexander Zverev has played in each of the past three events while Tsitsipas gained one year of experience in 2019. Team Europe brings four Laver Cup rookies to play in front of an expected raucous and biased crowd in Boston.
Will the rookies be able to rise to the Laver Cup occasion like their historic teammates?
Jack Sock’s Absence?
For the first time, Team World enters the competition without American Jack Sock. Despite being an outstanding doubles competitor, McEnroe left Sock off of this year’s team. McEnroe’s decision seems warranted as Sock holds singles and doubles rankings outside of the Top 150.
While not deserving of a spot on the team, Sock will still be missed. Sock currently is the only person to have played in all nine Laver Cup doubles matches ever contested, a distinction he will lose on Friday night. Sock’s doubles prowess, Laver Cup experience and leadership have been critical to Team World in the past.
Can Team World overcome the absence of this critical team member?
The 2021 Laver Cup matches bring significant anticipation for those who have been following the matches for years. Before the pandemic, this potential blockbuster event seemed to be on the precipice of breaking through and becoming a massive event on world sport’s schedule. Now, it looks like the Laver Cup is at a crossroads.
So, will an inexperienced team without Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic–but with four of the top five players in the world–playing on foreign land, on Ryder Cup weekend, against a team without its historically best player generate the intensity and competition to capture the attention of the sports world?
It’s a good question.
Main Photo from Getty.