The cash-rich exhibition season in tennis doesn't usually pick up steam until the late fall, but this week's Laver Cup is an early look at what's ahead. The three-day event, which starts Friday in Prague, is the brainchild of Roger Federer and his management team, and it was created in part to honor the man largely considered the greatest player of the 20th century: two-time season Grand Slammer Rod Laver.
The Laver Cup takes its cues from golf's Ryder Cup, which is played every two years, featuring Team USA vs. Team Europe. At the Laver Cup, though, it's Team Europe vs. Team World. But that's where the similarity with the popular golf event ends. Here's a Laver Cup FAQ to get you up to speed for the weekend:
Why is it Europe against the world?
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are both from Europe. So are seven of the other members of the top 10. Europe is the powerhouse continent in tennis; nobody else is even close. In fact, one of the obstacles for Federer and his pals is that this could be an ugly blowout.
What's the format of this event?
Each team has six players, and the event consists of 12 matches -- three singles and a doubles to be played on each of three consecutive days, starting Friday. Each player will play at least one singles match during two days, but no more than two matches over the three-day event. At least four of the six players must play doubles, and no doubles team can play more than once unless the teams are tied at the conclusion and a decider is required.
Who are the competitors and who chooses them?
Four of the six players are eligible on the basis of their ATP rankings, should they choose to participate. Two are selections left to the captains, Bjorn Borg (Europe) and John McEnroe (World).
McEnroe had initially tapped Juan Martin del Potro as a player, but Delpo withdrew, making room for the teenager Tiafoe.
Yes, it's a huge discrepancy.
What's the scoring system?
All matches will be two sets, with a 10-point match-tiebreaker used instead of a third set in the event the players split sets. The scoring will also be traditional advantage (as opposed to no-ad). That's a win for the Laver Cup, because the credibility of the event will only be enhanced if it doesn't go overboard with gimmicks. And singles and doubles will feature the same scoring.
How does either team win the event?
The scoring of the event is a little more complicated, as is the process for creating the daily matchups. Wins on the first day are worth one point. On the second day, they count for two points, and three points for the final day.
The intent is clear: Save your best for last and build drama at the same time. It's still a little weird that not all W's will have equal value, but maybe it will turn out to be an asset if Team World can pull off an upset or two down the stretch.
The first team to accumulate 13 points wins the event. In the event of a tie, a one-set doubles match will decide the winner.
How seriously should we take these matches?
Better to ask, How seriously will the players take these matches? You can't fake intensity and passion, and if the players bring that, this event could get a foothold in the public's imagination. But if there's a lot of fooling around and playing to the crowd, it will be just another hit-and-giggle exo, and it won't likely get traction to become a legitimate fixture on the calendar in the manner of January's Hopman Cup.