Am I outraged about the Laver Cup receiving ATP Tour logistical support and retroactively counting match results as ATP match wins? “Outrage” can’t be used for every single thing — outrage needs to be saved for profound injustices such as Roland Garros scheduling. Therefore, I would not say I am outraged, no.
Yet, I would certainly say I am depressed by what has happened here.
No, this isn’t the biggest deal in the world. It isn’t even a top-3 or top-5 big deal. Tennis has so many bigger problems to confront. There is a long line of topics the sport must handle before Laver Cup. Do not perceive this column as an attempt to express how severe a problem the Laver Cup is. I’m not going there, so you don’t have to follow me down that road.
What I can say, however, is that these new Laver Cup changes reflect a basic set of problems which have already become numbingly familiar to tennis fans and observers:
A) This sport makes sh** up as it goes along. This is exactly what “winging it” means.
B) Transparency in decision making is either hard to identify or not widely shared as a communal responsibility among influencers and power brokers… if not both.
C) Flowing from A and B, the sport continues to shun the notion of consistency, which is not automatically a vice but does lead the sport into highly problematic positions a lot of the time.
Let’s very briefly unpack these three familiar points:
A) Tennis makes sh** up as it goes along. What do I mean here? Consider: Olympic tennis used to carry rankings points. Then it did not. The ATP Cup in Australia will have points. Laver Cup will not. Davis Cup has traditionally structured ties at times, but also the new Pique Cup structure at the end of the year. Everyone wants to create a new event, it seems, but the sport has no handle on streamlining or regulating the standards or prizes these new events carry. The matter of tour sanctioning might be relatively innocent in isolation, especially if Laver Cup won’t carry rankings points in 2019. Yet, the money these events make and the backing they receive from other entities raise the question of whether organized tennis structures should be spending their money on these new “Cups” of various kinds, especially when the challenger circuit (the minor leagues, where it is very hard to make a living) needs money so much more than higher tiers of established professionals.
B) Transparency. How many people were truly consulted and involved — at a meaningful level — in the process of giving ATP logistical support to Laver Cup? Was the scope of consultation especially wide? What were the mechanisms and procedures used to arrive at this decision? Sunlight would be appreciated… tell me if you have heard that one before.
C) Consistency isn’t something tennis has to have on every front. The four majors get to decide how to handle final-set tiebreakers. I am not bothered by that. That is a relatively cosmetic detail at four tournaments of consequence. The U.S. Open was separate from the other three majors for a long time in that regard, and we all lived. Variety is not inherently bad. It can even spice things up.
However: Consistency matters a lot more when we are focusing on equal opportunity to participate in events and make a living as a professional. Events with hardly any history — events which are just beginning to form an identity in tennis and in the sports marketplace — are already vying for certain levels of status and approval. The fact that they are trying to receive such approval is not wrong, but who regulates and oversees those decisions, and how are they balanced against the needs of other rank-and-file professionals whose level of access to these “Cups” (Laver, Pique, ATP) is not uniformly even, and is probably not as great as it is to “normal” tour events?
Not valuing consistency can be a problem for tennis. This is one of many examples.
No, Laver Cup isn’t the embodiment of all that is wrong with tennis, but it does bring back to the surface the familiar flaws and failures of a sport, the deficits in leadership and governance which are numbingly pervasive and unchecked.