Billie Jean King was clear on a recent Racquet Magazine podcast: She wants to see a co-ed World Cup of Tennis.
King, who developed World Team Tennis with her then-husband Larry, said a lot in the podcast linked to above about the need to develop tennis within a team structure and a team concept.
Part of the appeal for team-based tennis is the involvement and inclusion of all tennis disciplines — singles, doubles and mixed — which develops a fuller range of skills. Another part of the puzzle is television: Being able to show teams of players interacting and emoting on one court centralizes a tennis experience in a way which is friendly for television. Having vibrant personalities can create a highly compelling product for TV viewers and on-site fans.
Another selling point for team-oriented tennis, especially with women and men being on the same team: Tennis can further capitalize on its identity as a sport where women and men play at the same tournament. Yes, women and men don’t play together in tournaments except for mixed doubles, but a team-oriented tennis event can make the coexistence of men’s and women’s tours more profound for a global audience of fans. Hopman Cup was a very popular event. Naturally, tennis replaced it. Yet, it remains that Hopman Cup was very appealing, and King’s idea of a World Cup of Tennis naturally makes all the sense in the world.
If there is a Pique Cup, a Laver Cup, and an ATP Cup (the ATP event which will take the place of the Hopman Cup next year in Australia), why shouldn’t there be either — as King wants — an integrated dual-gender World Cup, or at least a women’s equivalent of Laver Cup?
This is an example of the uneasy relationship between the desire for change and the desire for consistency in the tennis industry. Creating a World Cup (dual-gender) or a women’s equivalent of the Laver Cup might feel like forced change — “change for the mere sake of change, or change for the mere sake of doing something and trying to artificially engineer balance” — but with so many men’s Cups proliferating, it is impossible to avoid noticing that women’s tennis hasn’t yet made a big step into this particular space.
Tennis is waiting — yearning — for a women’s event which can capitalize on the large number of high-quality WTA players on tour in 2019. Shouldn’t the sport want to showcase these players and, as a result, create matches and (beyond the matches themselves) interactions which will raise the profile of the women’s game?
Yes, Billie Jean King would prefer a Hopman-style integrated World Cup of Tennis. That might be where most fans would like to go in the 2020s and beyond. The desire for a women’s Laver Cup might be a minority position compared to a World Cup of Tennis.
Can we at least get one of these two events started? It seems that the time has come for the WTA to gain a piece of the pie… and drink from the Cup of newly designed international team competitions.