A subject that will remain off limits in the Team Europe locker room these next few days is the one the rest of tennis is talking about.
Roger Federer admitted on Thursday that he and Rafael Nadal, temporarily on the same side in the Laver Cup, have not discussed the Spaniard breathing down his neck in the competition – also involving Novak Djokovic – centring on who ends up with the most Grand Slam titles.
‘I don’t feel like it’s an elephant in the room,’ said Federer of his 20 wins to Nadal’s 19. He admitted, however: ‘This is not stuff you really talk about. I think I’m generally happy for Rafa for winning in New York and winning all the other ones that he has and all the Frenches he’s won.
‘ It’s just a massive respect I have for Rafa, what he’s done. Djokovic, Sampras, you name it. These are things you can’t really control other than when you face each other and you try to stop the other guy. The point is try to win for yourself and your fans, your team, and try to have your best career.’
John McEnroe, Captain of Team World, praised the grand struggle for the Majors, but joked: ‘They may just call it a day after this weekend when we whip their asses.’
The allure of seeing Nadal and Federer compete together is one reason Geneva’s 18,000-capacity Palexpo arena will be packed out for what is the third edition of an event pitting Europe against McEnroe’s Rest of the World.
Another is the slick event-staging skills of Tennis Australia, who are among the partners of Federer’s management agency Team8 in promoting this luxury brand of a team competition.If the last two are anything to go by the fans will enjoy it and it will be pronounced a success.
The wider professional game, however, continues to be in a state of upheaval.
One emerging issue is the petition said to have been signed by around 80 players from the ATP Tour – although hardly any from the top 20 and neither Nadal nor Federer – demanding that the four Grand Slam events give them a bigger share of their revenues in prize money.
In a new development Sportsmail understands that the petition is now being extended to female players. According to several sources the Williams sisters are among those who are supportive, although that has not been confirmed.
Other top players on the WTA Tour have been approached, and a considerable number are said to be sympathetic.
The crux of the players’ argument is that the likes of Wimbledon should be giving them more than the present share of around 14% of tournament revenues, which is lower than most other sports. This despite the All England Club, for example, paying first round singles losers £45,000 already.
The Grand Slams have been slow to articulate their counterpoints. These include the massive recent investment in venue facilities and the fact that they have no control of the players’ commercial rights unlike, say, the NBA in America.
While the big four tournaments can easily bat away threats from mid-ranked male players led by Djokovic, if some of the prominent women join in it gives those carrying a grievance greater clout.
Many of the issues troubling tennis beneath the gleaming veneer of the historic battle between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic stem from its lack of co-ordinated governance.
This is exemplified by the fact that Friday’s start of the Laver Cup is the first of three major men’s team events in less than four months which are fighting it out for prominence and credibility.
In late November comes the new finals week of the 119 year-old Davis Cup, with footballer Gerard Pique its figurehead. Less than six weeks later the 2020 season will kick off with the new ATP Cup prior to the Australian Open.
For years sensible voices in the game recognised that there was room for more team formats in tennis, but now it is faced with a glut of them, involving billionaire backers, feuding stars and rival organisations.
Federer maintained on Thursday that they can co-exist, although in the long-term few can be sure.
‘Before the Davis Cup was four weeks and now it’s basically two weeks,’ argued Federer. ‘ Laver cup is only three days of tennis and I’m excited to see how the Davis Cup finals and ATP Cup turns out so in a few months we can say more about it. In a few months we will be able to say if the Davis Cup and ATP Cup are too similar. For the moment there’s a place for the three events, but how it will be in ten years we will see.’
The Laver Cup has plenty going for it as the players seem genuinely enthusiastic, its production values are high and the crowds will flock, at least as long as the golden generation is around.
More of an issue whether it can make the transition from being good entertainment into something that has a credibility approaching the Ryder Cup.
It has not helped that not everyone qualified to play is in attendance. Even though he is currently injured Djokovic declined to play anyway, a symptom of his uneasy relationship with Federer and Nadal.
Kei Nishikori, the highest ranked player available to the seemingly overmatched Team World, is another absentee as he prepares for what is his personally important Asian swing of ATP events.
A bigger, and more absurd, clash looms in the proximity of the Davis Cup finals and the ATP Cup, although both of them at this point look to have strong fields among their respective 18 and 24-nation fields.
The Davis Cup faces nagging questions about its financial viability, given the large commitments it has made to global governing body the International Tennis Federation in return for the license to promote it.
This month the ITF has its Presidential election, which looks to be close and keenly contested race between three main candidates in American incumbent Dave Haggerty, India’s Anil Khanna and London-based Irishman Dave Miley.
Khanna’s All India Tennis Association have recently sent out a lengthy letter demanding clarity on where the money guaranteed by Pique’s Kosmos group stands in the ITF’s official financial projections.
The new Davis Cup does, however, have the backing of Japanese e-commerce tycoon Hiroshi Mikitani of Rakuten, and another billionaire in Oracle’s Larry Ellison, although the exact extent of the latter’s involvement is unclear.
The $15 million ATP Cup, which has already sunk the popular mixed Hopman Cup team event from its established January slot, follows fast on its heels in January straight after the shrunken off-season, but has the advantage of being able to award ranking points. 2020 will also include the added squeeze of the Olympics.
As Federer pointed out, in ten years from now something may have had to give.
· The Laver Cup features two teams of six players contesting nine singles and three doubles rubbers. There is one point per victory on Friday, two per win on Saturday, and three per win on Sunday. TV: Eurosport.
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