When a legendary athlete who has set the bar unfathomably high for the rest of his sport looks pedestrian, it is easy for observers to freak out. While plenty of Roger Federer fans took Sunday’s Cincinnati final in stride, some surely gulped inwardly and got the sneaking suspicion that the window of opportunity might be closing quickly for the Swiss in his bid to win more significant titles.
Novak Djokovic made Federer look ordinary in a routine straight-set victory in Ohio. Djokovic’s quality defined the match. Djokovic planted his flag on defense, established control of the whole court, and punished Federer from start to finish whenever Federer couldn’t hit an unreturnable serve or win the point in four strokes or fewer.
Djokovic’s defense squeezed Federer, who pressed, and whose groundstrokes had not been consistent enough over the course of the full week to give him the confidence needed to stay with Nole from the baseline. The result was predictable as soon as Djokovic finally broke Federer’s serve in the first set — finally not in relationship to Federer’s streak of 100 straight service holds in Cincinnati (dating back to 2014), but to something else.
I use the word “finally” in the sense that Djokovic hadn’t broken Federer’s serve in the 2015 Cincinnati final or their 2012 Cincinnati final. The last time Djokovic had broken
Federer in Cincinnati was in game two of the second set of the 2009 final.
The 2009 final involved 10 Federer service games. The 2012 final involved 9 Federer service games, the 2015 final 11, for a total of 30. Federer then held in the first three games on Sunday in 2018, meaning that in three Cincinnati finals plus the first half of Sunday’s opening set, Djokovic — quite possibly the best returner in men’s tennis history — had broken Federer’s serve just once in 33 service games.
As soon as Djokovic put his foot down in the seventh game of the first set — Federer’s fourth service game of the match — the Swiss’s lack of a strong return game or durable groundstrokes made the match feel over. When Djokovic double faulted to give Federer a break lead early in the second, there was a brief sense that the flow of the match could change.
Yet, a lot like the 2009 final in which Djokovic lost the first set and got a *2-0 lead in the second stanza, Federer couldn’t hold his break very long on Sunday, nine years later. Djokovic reasserted himself, confirming the notion that his first-set surge felt like a decisive moment in the match. Nole’s early lapse at the start of the second set was more aberration than hinge point.
As everyone knows, this was the first Fedole match since the 2016 Australian Open semifinals. That night in Melbourne, Djokovic was simply unplayable in the first two sets. The version of Djokovic seen on Sunday was not as overwhelming as the January 2016 iteration, if only because NO version of Djokovic was as dominant as that one in Australia. Yet, this midsummer form of Djokovic, in August of 2018, was still very locked in. Federer had to have a vintage serving day to have a realistic chance. Roger didn’t come particularly close to that needed standard. He got kicked around.
It is easy to regard this as a shattering, devastating moment if you’re a Federer fan. If the ATP Tour is now recalling early 2016 or late 2015, when Djokovic would steal Federer’s thunder in a lot of big-tournament finals, it is a natural reaction for Fed fans to be depressed. Yet, when seen in a fuller perspective, there is very little for Federer himself to be discouraged about.
What Federer fans need to realize is not that the ground has shifted (though in a very real sense it has, with Djokovic back on top of the mountain). The bigger epiphany is how little the earth has moved in relationship to Federer himself.
Djokovic has drastically altered the balance of power on tour within the course of the 2018 season, going from hopeless wanderer in late March in Miami to familiar tour juggernaut at Wimbledon and in Cincinnati.
Federer, though, has been conspicuously consistent in so many ways and on so many levels. Far from seeing this loss as an alarming moment or a time to speculate if a nosedive is imminent, this is precisely an occasion in which Federer’s ridiculously relentless consistency should be marveled at.
Before I wrote at either Patreon (my personal, independent blog site) or here at Tennis With An Accent, I had written at multiple media companies from 2014 through the early summer of 2017. Some of you followed my work at those outlets, but for those who didn’t yet know me or didn’t yet follow my work at the time, let me briefly share my condensed version of how I viewed Roger.
Very simply, I said in those years — particularly after the 2015 losses to Djokovic in the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals — that Federer, in his mid-30s, remained a top-three men’s tennis player who simply wasn’t quite as good as Djokovic. Federer was exceeding so many expectations of what people thought he would achieve at age 33 and 34, especially in light of his annus horribilis in 2013, when a lot of people (many who considered themselves Federer fans) thought he should retire to preserve his legacy and reputation. Losing those big-event finals to Djokovic stung, but the fact that Federer was MAKING those finals was very special and impressive.
I noted the steady, forward-moving consistency of Federer’s career, a linear journey in which the Swiss kept himself in the top three, kept giving himself chances at important tournaments — as he has always been fond of saying — and kept maintaining a high standard relative to his age and level of longevity in tennis.
I said that as long as Federer remained a semifinal or final-level player at the top tier of the ATP Tour, he just needed a bit of good fortune to win another major and add to his legend.
It wasn’t good luck that Federer himself got injured, but Federer — like Djokovic and Nadal — knows how to turn the bad aspects of a negative development into helpful and restorative details. He turned his injury rehabilitation period in the latter half of 2016 into a rest period which enabled him to be both physically and mentally fresh for the 2017 Australian Open.
Federer got anything but an easy draw — the path through the bracket was as tough as he could have hoped for, save for a breather against Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals after the older Zverev brother knocked off World No. 1 Andy Murray. Yet, within that cutthroat draw, Federer had the legs and the mental reset he needed to make his way to the finals and, once there, play with a new degree of inner freedom against Nadal, his old nemesis.
We can debate this until the end of recorded time: What if Federer never took several months off? Would he have done as well as he did at the 2017 Australian Open? We will never be able to know. I know I will go to my grave convinced that stepping away from the tour gave Federer the refreshment he needed to turn the page in his rivalry with Nadal.
He turned an injury into a gateway for one of the foremost highlights of his career, quite possibly the moment he will cherish more than the 2009 Roland Garros title when he hangs up the sneakers and racquets.
So much about the 2017 Australian Open was anything BUT lucky for Federer, but the rest break was an unexpected benefit. What also helped Federer was that Djokovic, injured and not in form, bowed out early. The two never crossed paths. A final detail which did matter: The combination of Nadal playing a five-hour semifinal against Grigor Dimitrov plus Federer getting two days off due to playing the Thursday men’s semifinal in Melbourne (Rafa played Friday) enabled Fed to go the distance in the final.
Nadal surely would have had more verve and vigor had he played in the Thursday semifinal, but the bigger point of emphasis is that Federer — who took a medical timeout during his highly physical semifinal against Stan Wawrinka — had more time to recover. Had Federer played in the Friday semifinal and not the Thursday semi, he probably would have been toast against a fresher Nadal.
Federer got a little bit lucky, but he was good enough at that Australian Open to put himself in position to benefit from that luck. In a much larger context, Federer was skilled enough, competent enough, hungry enough, and resilient enough to be what he has been throughout this decade — save for that dark patch at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2013: one of the three best male tennis players on the planet. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, now 2018: Federer has been a top-three player in all those years.
Whether age 28 at the start of this calendar decade or age 37 as he is now, Federer is still there. He is simply always there. He is that steady line which just keeps moving forward with uncommon consistency.
At the 2017 Australian Open, and then later that year at Wimbledon — followed by this past January at Melbourne Park — Federer was rewarded for that mind-blowing consistency at the top of men’s tennis. That was the payoff in exchange for losing Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals to Djokovic, tournaments in which Federer played at a very high level.
Federer was bitterly unlucky to play great six-match tournaments and then encounter a better player in the final. Many men Federer had beaten in his prime — Andy Roddick at Wimbledon comes to mind — knew the exquisite pain of playing an A-grade tournament and still not lifting the championship trophy because that one damn guy from Switzerland stood in the way. In 2014 and 2015, Federer stepped in Roddick’s shoes while Djokovic became the big daddy.
2017 as a whole, and 2018 at the Australian Open, paid Federer back with confluences of circumstances which rewarded Roger’s uncanny ability to keep humming along on that straight and smooth highway as a top-three player in the world. As soon as Djokovic fell from the picture, Federer was there to capitalize.
This forms the proper background and subtext in which to appreciate Sunday’s Cincinnati final: This was not regression on the part of Federer — not in any meaningful sense. First of all, Federer didn’t play worse than he did against David Goffin on Saturday, or in set one of Friday’s quarterfinal against Wawrinka. Federer’s groundstrokes and return game weren’t particularly crisp in those situations. Sunday merely failed to IMPROVE the equation — it didn’t represent a noticeable DECLINE in quality. His level was never that high to begin with, which makes it hard to regress on a large scale.
This also was not regression for Federer in a broader sense: He has made 6 finals in 8 tournaments played this year. At so many tournaments in 2017 and 2018, Federer has made finals by playing B- or B-plus tennis. 2017 Montreal was an example. 2017 Shanghai was an example. 2017 Miami was an example in relationship to the middle rounds of that tournament, though not to the spectacular Miami semifinal against Nick Kyrgios, the best three-set men’s match anywhere on the ATP Tour in 2017.
Federer was scratchy in Basel last year before finding his way to the final in that tournament. In 2018, the same song has been playing. Federer was elite as a junkyard-dog fighter in Indian Wells this past March, rarely looking elegant but steering through landmines en route to a final. He did not play unworldly tennis when he defended his Australian Open crown, but he owned the key moments such as the break point at the start of the fifth set against Marin Cilic.
Halle and Cincinnati merely continued in 2018 what Federer has been doing for most of the past 1.5 years: making finals on tour without his best fastball. The consistency with which Federer has reached the finals of tournaments is matched only by the consistency with which he has played a notch below his absolute best self, his JesusFed or “Federer’s Funhouse” God-Mode settings.
In Australia and Indian Wells in 2017, God-Mode Federer entered the building. Even though Federer struggled in the middle rounds of Miami in 2017, he was his best self in the semis and the final against Kyrgios and Nadal. Other than those occasions, however, Federer has been winning without needing to be overwhelming.
Some will see that as a criticism or perhaps a backhanded compliment, and if you do, I can’t prevent you from feeling that way. I can, however, try to emphasize and impress upon you the idea that I am giving Federer a lavish form of praise.
Stop and think: How ridiculously impressive is it that a 35, 36, and now 37-year-old tennis player keeps reaching a very high bar — finals made in a MAJORITY of his tournament appearances in a tennis season — despite the withering toll modern tennis takes on the human body, especially in an era when the tour is disproportionately weighted toward hardcourts, the surface which punishes the body more than any other?
Even with Federer not playing clay, his fat stack of hardcourt finals is impossible to ignore.
This is not normal. This is not to be taken for granted. This is not what regression looks like.
Roger Federer is not declining — not in the way he plays tennis. His 2017 results were better than 2018, and in the early months of 2017, it is true that he attained a higher level than the one he currently possesses. Yet, since July of 2017, it can very reasonably be said that Federer has been playing at or close to the same level — very solid, occasionally spectacular, hardly ever poor — and maintaining that standard at nearly every tournament.
Whereas so many WTA stars are way up in one tournament and then way down the next (Sloane Stephens, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, among others), Federer is that steady, reliable presence one can still count on, two weeks after his 37th birthday. Only once has Federer failed to play into the quarterfinals of a tournament this year (Miami).
Only twice has he failed to make a final. Even if he didn’t play clay, it’s not as though this is a sample of two or three tournaments; it’s a sample of eight tournaments on two surfaces over the course of five months of playing activity. That’s not a drop in the bucket.
The bottom line: Federer isn’t regressing — not in the quality of his tennis. The main thing which was different about Sunday’s Cincinnati final is that Novak Djokovic improved when compared to previous Cincy finals against Fed, and also when compared to the early months of the 2018 season, when he was lost and had not yet realized that he needed Marian Vajda back in his life.
Roger Federer isn’t going anywhere. Moreover, he hasn’t gone anywhere. He has been a top-3 player for an insanely long period of time. He still owns that elevated status. He is still making finals. He is still beating younger foes even when he is not playing at his best. Federer is still doing the kinds of things which should elicit awe and amazement.
Djokovic beating him in a final once again means that Federer is No. 2 in a tournament. It’s not as good as being No. 1, but at age 37, being a consistent No. 2 at the most important tennis tournaments in the world is an extraordinary feat of human engineering and Swiss precision.
The steadiness of Federer, like a Swiss watch, just keeps on ticking. As was the case in 2013, and as has been the case for so much of this decade, rumors of a Federer decline have been greatly exaggerated. Cincinnati did nothing to change that notion; on the contrary, this latest ATP Masters final only affirmed it.
Roundtable — ATP Major Showdowns in 2019
What is the one ATP matchup you really want to see at the major tournaments in 2019?
Before we begin:
We offered our selections for the WTA matchup we most wanted to see at the 2019 majors in this roundtable at Tennis With An Accent.
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Now, on with the show, and the answers to today’s roundtable question:
JANE VOIGT — @downthetee
ATP rivalries have been concentrated at the top for over a decade. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, or any combination of those three, sell boatloads of tickets and even draw the attention of international celebrities. Their names will never be forgotten. However, tennis marches on, so my 2019 scorecard looks beyond the tried-and-true to the kids, such as Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alex de Minaur for best matchups on the radar.
All four of these rising stars are court-runners, meaning they have not only raw footspeed, but anticipation. I gasped the first time Tiafoe dug out a dribbling drop shot. His takeoff speed looked like top speeds from other competitors. Then de Minaur popped up at the Citi Open in July. His slight build is a big asset, meaning he never says no to a tennis ball coming at him no matter how absurd a return seems. Tsitsipas bloomed in 2018. Shapovalov continued to impress. But for sheer “wow factor,” I say Tiafoe and de Minaur is the hot ticket. The sooner the better, too, which means the Australian Open.
ANDREW BURTON — @burtonad
In contrast to the WTA, the ATP can look forward in 2019 to the continuation of some of the most storied rivalries in the Open Era.
That’s if the top players are healthy – and of course it’s a big if, as Rafael Nadal’s knee injury in New York and Andy Murray’s and Stan Wawrinka’s slow climbs back to full fitness have demonstrated. By October 1, there won’t be a single male Grand Slam champion younger than 30. One of the younger champions, Juan Martin del Potro, has started to emulate other 30+ stars in paring back his schedule.
A few younger players have begun to establish rivalries. Sascha Zverev (21) and Nick Kyrgios (23) have played six times to date, splitting the spoils. We had a first meeting at a Grand Slam between two Generation Felix stars, Denis Shapovalov (19) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (18). (Editor’s Note: Ask Andrew what he means by Generation Felix if you are unsure of the reference. It will be worth your time.) Will that be one of the great rivalries five years from now? Perhaps.
Sorry if this isn’t very imaginative, but I go back to the Big 3 for my two main matchups to watch. After reversing fortune in 2017 against Nadal, Roger Federer hasn’t played his former nemesis once in 2018. Could we hope for some rematches in 2019? If there’s one single match I’d like to see, it’s Nadal versus Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Djokovic is the one player who has consistently threatened – and on one occasion beaten – Nadal in his fortress.
Bring it on, one more time.
MERT ERTUNGA – @MertovsTDesk
There is not much to say here due to the giant gap that still exists between the top 3 and the rest of the arena, so to speak. The same can be said for quality of play. When the Big 3 play each other, top-quality tennis is much more likely to be produced than in any other matchup not involving them.
Assuming they come into the two weeks not carrying injuries, Djokovic versus Nadal at Roland Garros would be my top priority for 2019. Federer-Djokovic at Wimbledon would be number two (the last two matches they played against each other there were excellent).
If I had to include a match not involving two of the top three, I would go with Juan Martin del Potro versus any of the top three at Wimbledon.
If I were forced to choose a match without any of the top three, I would take an in-form Fabio Fognini at the Australian Open or the U.S. Open versus any of the top members of the Next Gen, the people he enjoys criticizing so much in some of his pressers.
SAQIB ALI — @saqiba
Sascha Zverev versus Novak Djokovic. Zverev will win majors one day, but where will he be in 2019? I would love to see him go up against Djokovic? How quickly will Zverev develop under Ivan Lendl?
MATT ZEMEK — @mzemek
I also regard Zverev-Djokovic as the match I most want to see at the majors next year. Given Djokovic’s high ranking, it is likely that such a meeting would occur in the semifinals of a major. If it happens in the quarterfinals, so be it, but if it happens in a semifinal, it would probably mean that Zverev will have made his first major semifinal, which would spice up tennis and create fresh hope that the younger generation is ready to make its mark.
Of the eight ATP major finalists in 2018, only one – Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros – is currently younger than 30. Thiem isn’t even 26. Having a 21- or 22-year-old Zverev (he turns 22 in April of 2019) make a major semifinal or final would give tennis a glimpse of the future and offer fans of non-Big 3 players the assurance that the next decade might give rise to a championship-caliber force.
The other reason a Zverev-Djokovic match would crackle: Zverev’s win over a man who, in retrospect, was far from fully healthy in the 2017 Rome final. Zverev is the challenger and the man trying to make his mark, but Djokovic would be playing for revenge.
Djokovic would be a heavy favorite in 2019 should the two men meet, but if they do meet in a major semifinal, the confrontation might give rise to subsequent reunions in 2020 and 2021. It would move forward the story of tennis.
Postscript/addendum: If forced to pick a matchup other than Zverev-Djokovic: Thiem-Djokovic at Roland Garros. A Zverev-Djokovic match would be interesting on any surface.
Roundtable – “Mo Money Mo Problems”
Is the ATP’s suspension of Mohamed Lahyani appropriate – the result, the process, both, or neither?
Tennis authorities have sent a clear message to umpires in the last two weeks: exercise more discretion. Sorry, don’t exercise any discretion. Treat players as human beings. Wait a second, don’t do that. We value your experience. We’ll throw you under the bus as soon as anyone complains about your decisions.
Only the last of these will be heard by chair umpires, and they’ll likely act accordingly.
The ATP’s decision to fine and suspend Mohamed Lahyani after his intervention with Nick Kyrgios may have been the same even if another umpire, Carlos Ramos, hadn’t become embroiled in an even more controversial incident at the end of the tournament.
I doubt it.
You can find fault, if you choose, with either man’s handling of his respective match. Both were hung out to dry, and now we learn that at least one of the officials has been publicly sanctioned.
Their fellow officials will draw the right lessons from this: Don’t take risks. Don’t stand out. Don’t attract controversy.
If you do, be prepared to pay for it. Interpersonal skills and judgement – even occasionally flawed, human judgement – aren’t appreciated.
Get ready for robots in the chair.
Lahyani’s actions with Kyrgios were not appropriate, especially the part where he passionately talked to Nick for an extended period of time (not the part where he — at first — tried to tell him to show better effort). Hence, I see nothing wrong with some type of penalty applied to Lahyani for his actions and do not find the two-week suspension inappropriate.
I do question, however, the timing of the sanction and the entity that made the decision. The incident occurred during the U.S. Open tournament run by the ITF and the USTA, and it took place two weeks ago. One can see it as the ATP doing what the ITF and the USTA should have done expediently at the time.
There is, however, no agreeable way to justify the fact that the ATP itself waited two weeks to pass this suspension. I consider that particularity to be a procedural failure on the ATP’s part.
A hypothetical for your consideration: Arsenal plays Manchester United on August 17. Two and a half weeks later, after two more Premier League games have been played by both teams, the league announces a sanction on one of the referees for a missed call in the Arsenal-Man U match.
The Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants in Week 2 of the NFL football season in the United States. The NFL announces a suspension for a referee who made a bad call in that game, but makes the announcement after Week 4 of the season.
An NBA basketball official makes a terrible mistake in Game 12 of the 82-game regular season. He works a 13th and 14th game but then gets suspended before his 15th game.
This is essentially what tennis did with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani. I personally disagree with a two-week suspension; I thought that relegating Lahyani to doubles matches during the second week of the tournament was punishment enough. Yet, the suspension – a result of a process – is a minor issue compared to the process itself.
This process was — and is — atrocious.
Sports officials don’t need an FBI investigation after they make a mistake. Information and context can be gathered from the relevant parties relatively quickly. People in supervisory roles look at the visual, textual and circumstance-based evidence. They determine how well an official performed. They suspend him or downgrade him or caution him within 36 hours if not 24.
I have had my (basketball) officiating performances graded right after my game ended. I met with the graders in the locker room. They talked to me about what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I needed to improve. It comes with the territory… but the process is not supposed to be prolonged.
Relegating Mo to doubles at the U.S. Open nevertheless meant he was allowed to work matches. Why should a sports official be allowed to work matches when an unresolved situation hangs over his head? What if I made a bad call in a basketball game on Monday but was then allowed to work on Thursday, did the Thursday game, and then was suspended for the next game on Saturday? Why would I have any confidence in the leadership of the officials’ association I worked for? How could I trust the governing body of the sport I was officiating?
I can see the need to wait 24 hours to gather information in situations such as this, but not much more. Workers – that is what chair umpires are – deserve swift resolution of performance-based matters. This is exactly the kind of thing a tennis umpires’ union would be able to address.
I hope umpires get angry and focused enough to band together in the right ways and for the right reasons, especially since they are already underpaid and are being given more work (monitoring serve clocks).
You can approve of the suspension itself yet hate how the ATP carried out this process. You can accept the result yet loathe how the ATP had no sense of timing — none whatsoever — in bringing it about.
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The Roundtable Cup — Davis and Fed and Laver
If you ruled tennis for 24 hours, how would you arrange or rearrange Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Laver Cup, and related events, either in terms of the calendar, the format of the events, or anything else you feel is important?
With Davis Cup and Fed Cup, my initial changes would be to make the competition format the same for both the men and the women. The differing rules can be confusing, so I would use the format of Davis Cup for both genders. Why? I like the way Davis Cup highlights the doubles rubber and makes it a pivotal moment for winning a tie.
I would also make Fed Cup and Davis Cup into alternate-year events. The new Davis Cup format has retained home and away ties for the qualifying round, but I would bring that back for the final round as well. Neutral locations can be used for the first iteration; the champions earn the honor of hosting the finals the following year. That solves the issue of home ties being in an unresolved location and gives the champions the potential bragging rights of hosting the best team-competition finals.
For an exhibition such as Laver Cup, I would get rid of it with adequate changes to the national competitions. There are enough demands on players with the current schedule. If I had to keep Laver Cup, I would move it to the down period after the Australian Open.
I would consult with the players first, although the question presumes I can proceed at my own discretion.
In scheduling, I would give the priority to Davis Cup and Fed Cup because they have a history (regardless of the format change), whereas Laver Cup and other events like it qualify as “intense” exhibitions in which winning or losing does not matter as much to the players (or to the masses). I would go back to the pre-reform format in Davis Cup (in all aspects), but if I cannot, meaning my hands are forced into some type of modification, I would at least keep the three-day format with the reverse singles intact, which was a characteristic unique to Davis Cup and set the stage for a potentially dramatic weekend.
Laver Cup is a separate category of event (as I mentioned above). I would work with its runners to make the best of it, but in terms of priority, it would come after ATP and WTA Tours, Davis Cup and Fed Cup.
If I ruled tennis for 24 hours, I’d take stock of my kingdom. The first thing I think I’d conclude is that it’s broken into squabbling baronies – more Game of Thrones than the Berlin Philharmonic.
So I’d realize that until we sorted out the whole calendar, and the balance between the demands and opportunities for players, the needs of tournaments, of national organizations and trans-national groups such as the ITF, ATP and WTA, sorting out one question — non-tournament-based competitions like the Fed Cup, Pique (formerly Davis) Cup and Laver Cup — creates issues elsewhere.
It’s all part of a web. Tug on one strand, another vibrates — or breaks.
As long as money remains the bottom-line goal of sports, in this case tennis, people will expand the number of events in order to increase income. Capitalism might have been unique to the U.S., but its supposed value has circled the globe. Therefore, as long as earnings upstage the value of players and what they bring to tennis, the expansion of the number of tournaments won’t cease. So how do we arrest this cycle?
Tennis needs an overarching body under which are all other bodies in the game fall: ITF, ATP, WTA, Grand Slams, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and expositions such as Laver Cup. Its first job: Limit the season in order to decrease or, at least, stabilize the rash of injuries. Next: Pay players equally, no matter the level of event. Grand Slams pay all players equal amounts. However, outside of them, women are paid substantially less per tournament. Next: Throw out the newly-signed ITF legislation that eliminated home-court advantage in Davis Cup. Use best-of-three format for Davis Cup – fine. But for goodness sake, did you hear the crowds’ roars during the semifinals this past weekend?
Davis and Fed Cup should be held every year, and under their traditional formats, but the demands on ATP players at four different points on the calendar should be considered. My one tweak to Davis Cup: Give the four semifinal nations a reward for playing deep into the previous year’s calendar by giving all of them a first-round bye into the quarterfinals. This would give top ATP singles players a lot of incentive to play the quarterfinal ties each season. Since players are generally fresher early in the season, that idea makes structural sense.
In Olympic years, one could make Davis Cup an eight-team tournament with either no February ties OR, as an alternative solution, putting the quarterfinals in February and the semifinals in April. I would lean toward February quarterfinals and April semis in Olympic years.
Speaking of Olympic years: There should be no Laver Cup in Olympic years. The Laver Cup, if it really does want to be the Ryder Cup of tennis, should be held every other year, just as the Ryder Cup has been. Laver Cup would ideally be held in odd-numbered years to avoid conflicting with the Olympics. Therefore, after Geneva in 2019, the next Laver Cup should be in 2021.
What I would also like to see with Laver Cup: Rotate it through different periods of the calendar year and see if that adjustment can free up new possibilities in the tennis calendar. Late September is a time when a lot of players are worn down. Try something else and see what it can offer.
One specific set of possibilities: In 2021, move the Bercy Masters to February, specifically when the Dubai ATP tournament is normally held. Move Dubai to two weeks before the Australian Open so that the year’s first major is preceded by a 500. Move the ATP Finals to the week vacated by Bercy. Then make Laver Cup two weeks after the ATP Finals, neatly placed between the ATP Finals and the Davis Cup Final.
Have comments about these ideas? I’ll explain mine, and my colleagues will explain theirs if you ask nicely. Catch me at @mzemek.
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