Match Points #34: What should be done about team tennis competitions?

In the latest edition of Match Points, Marion Bartoli, Carole Bouchard and Simon Cambers give their view about Team competitions.

October 22, 2021

Team Europe won the Laver Cup in fine style last month, beating Team Rest of the World 13-1. The Billie Jean King Cup Finals – to find the best nation in women’s tennis – takes place in Prague over the first week of November, while the Davis Cup – the men-only team tennis event – returns at the end of November. The Australian Open has been preceded in previous, pre-pandemic years by the ATP Cup and the Hopman Cup – although it seems that neither will take place in 2022.

Andrey Rublev & Alexander Zverev, 2021 Laver Cup
Andrey Rublev & Alexander Zverev, 2021 Laver Cup ©

Suffice to say, there are a lot of team competitions in tennis. That’s the topic for the latest edition of Match Points as host Josh Cohen asks the panel for their views – and how they’d tweak the calendar, given the power.

KEY MOMENTS

0.44 – What needs to be done to make the Laver Cup more competitive? Simon says it’s a “nice idea” to honour” Rod Laver, one of the kings of tennis”, but thinks it’s “a long way” from being a real competition.

2.58 – Marion was quick to say that she thought the 2021 edition of the Laver Cup was disappointing because the Rest of the World team was relatively weak, leading to a straightforward Europe win.

5.43 – And Carole agreed in part with both of them, suggesting that perhaps an annual event is too frequent in a packed tennis schedule.

“It lacks stakes,” she said. “It depends on casting – they need the top players to commit.”

7.50 – Marion suggested that more legends could be involved, with some of them playing a doubles match with current players. That way, it would be something different, allowing the players to have a break from the rigours of tour life and to have fun with their friends.

9.45 – Carole pointed out that more legends playing would make it into an exhibition event – which is something the Laver Cup says it does not want to be.

10.10 – “Most people inside the stadium are loving it, but I would love to see the viewing figures on TV, because I don’t think the world at large gets it yet,” said Simon, who suggested that the teams could be expanded to 12 per side – and that the competitiveness of the event could be increased if Borg’s old foe Jimmy Connors was the Rest of the World captain.

10.36 – Josh asked the panel what they would do to improve the Laver Cup. Simon came up with a couple of other ideas to make it more of a spectacle – including handicaps depending on a player’s ranking.

10.55 – Carole insisted that a tournament with no ranking points attached to it could never be particularly competitive, because the pressure on players would not be the same – but Marion said that younger players always want to show the legends how good they are.

13.30 – Simon suggested getting captains to play off in the event of a tie, exclaiming: “To see McEnroe and Borg getting out there to see who wins it, I think it would be fantastic.”

14.51 – Josh asked the panel how they would adjust the tour calendar to allow for the team competitions. The panel seemed to concur that there were too many team competitions – but disagreed on how to deal with the problem.

15.20 – Marion suggested rotating the calendar, having the Hopman Cup one year before the Australian Open, with the ATP Cup the next.

17.33 – Simon, on the other hand, said the ATP Cup should be scrapped altogether, with the Hopman Cup coming back as a regular fixture. He wondered whether the Davis Cup could become more of a World Cup event if it was less frequent – perhaps every two or four years, either side of an Olympic Games. Less regular events would make it easier for players to aim to peak at them – but Marion said that international team events were always a priority for players.

“When you have the name of your country on your back, you will peak for it. It’s a matter of respect,” she said.

23.05 – Carole said that there was no need for the ATP Cup as well as the Davis Cup.

26.29 – To wrap up, Josh asked each panellist what they thought about players receiving appearance fees to play international team tennis. Carole said it’s absolutely normal, and footballers being paid to play was never questioned. Simon took the opposite view, calling it “wrong” and “insane”.

27.30 – Marion was quick to point out that it’s not as straightforward as an “appearance fee” when it comes to representing one’s country – it’s actually a complicated calculation. But she thought players shouldn’t be paid to play for their country – although if they played well and won, they should be entitled to some kind of bonus.

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