Let’s start with this point: The ATP Cup has not been a failure in its first year. That is an achievement, and no, I am not being snarky.
The ATP Cup has been taken very seriously by its participants. Players have bought into the event. Emotional ties, fiercely-contested matches, and energized crowds have all marked this inaugural edition, a clear sign that the ATP Cup has a chance to work. Good on tennis for giving this event a chance.
Let’s try to improve the product so that it can endure in the right ways for the right reasons.
If one was to identify the number one flaw with the ATP Cup, it is this: The placement on the calendar does not work. The notable aspect of this flaw is how obvious it is. Everyone can see and appreciate why.
The Australian Open is not too far away. The players who win the most matches (which are generally going to be higher-ranked players — not always, but often enough to notice) will wind up playing tennis for more than a full week, probably in multiple cities. One week before a major tournament, that seems like a lot of tennis and travel for top players.
There is a “festival of tennis” quality to the ATP Cup, spreading the sport through three cities for a week and a half. This is a buffet table for people who love the sport. They can pick through the servings of doubles and the various meetings between specific nations, while skipping or looking past the less enticing choices in the buffet line.
The concept is good. It is. Everything good about the ATP Cup — the roaring, soaring, rousing moments from the past several days in Australia — is worth preserving and keeping in the sport.
Just not now. Just not the week before a major.
I know that when people discuss problems with tennis scheduling, every proposed reform is unrealistic in the sense that the sport isn’t there. The sport would have made an easy reform years ago if it saw fit to do so. The lack of reform shows how often the sport drags its feet.
I get it. I understand why proposed reforms — viewed through a certain lens — are dreams more than levelheaded acknowledgments of reality.
Yet, if we were to focus less on the actual political reality of tennis and more on the ability of the sport to make a given adjustment with comparatively few disruptions to important tournaments, here is what the ATP Cup would do: It would play this event in February.
That is a one-month adjustment as opposed to a dramatic restructuring of the calendar. Moving the ATP Cup to February gives fans and TV broadcasters an intriguing event to show AFTER a major tournament, to maintain interest in the sport. The Laver Cup, coming as it does after the U.S. Open, has already staked out that territory. More people stay with tennis AFTER the U.S. Open these days because Laver Cup has proved to be so popular.
The ATP Cup can follow that same path.
In February, there are no Masters 1000 tournaments. If ever there was a month in which the ATP could stage an event such as the ATP Cup, one could do a lot worse than February.
It might not be realistic as a reflection of the sport’s current politics, but as a logistical matter — altering the calendar with minimal damage and disruption — it does a lot less harm than several other possible alternatives.
I just try to provide ideas. Whether tennis wants to adopt them is its own problem.