Laver Cup: Protecting Tennis’ Crown Prince

Editor’s note: This article contains references to domestic abuse and suicide, which may trigger some readers.

On Sept. 26, the Laver Cup concluded its fourth Edition in Boston. For the uninitiated, the Laver Cup is an indoor hard court tennis tournament which invites top ranking players of Team Europe and Team World for a weekend. What started an exhibition tournament, is now an ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tournament that awards ranking points to players too. The intention, however, remains the same: to glamourize the sport and increase its popularity worldwide. 

This year, Team Europe clinched its fourth straight victory.  Another constant at the tournament is World No. four and Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev, who was integral to Team Europe’s victory at every Laver Cup edition and is the most successful player at the tournament, alongside Roger Federer. With the absence of the Big Three -Novak Djokovich, Federer and Rafael Nadal- this year, he was marketed as the face of the tournament. 

Given Zverev’s stellar on-court performances this year and the fact that the tournament has played a huge role is making him a fan favourite and ATP’s golden hier, it might seem natural for the tournament to promote their star- EXCEPT the domestic abuse and assault allegations leveled against him overshadow his achievements, making it difficult for fans to enjoy watching him play, let alone root for him. 

Olga Sharypova, a former girlfriend, accused Zverev of physical and emotional abuse throughout their relationship. In fact, she detailed a specific incident which occured at the 2019 Laver Cup where she injected herself with insulin in an attempt at suicide and was saved by Zverev and a Laver Cup official. The incident was then covered up, along with the crime. 

Even though no case was filed against the German star nor is there enough evidence published online to convict him (as ruled by a German court during an injunction hearing), fans cannot separate the tournament from the allegations and hence could not enjoy it – especially him playing there. 

The tone-deaf decision to invite Zverev for this tournament was eclipsed by the fact that the tournament’s official Twitter account was blocking fans and even ticket holders reposting or commenting on the allegations. Irrespective of the verity of the allegations, muzzling fan voices to evade accountability is a highly questionable way of dealing with the situation. Not only does this question the integrity of the tournament and its organizers, but also alienates fans and taints the sport as a whole. 

The hush culture, even at the highest level of this luxury sport, is reflective of its privileged and affluent audience as well as organizers and officials. The ATP’s initial silence, subsequent dismissal of responsibility and late introduction of abuse policies are other moral indicators which have begun to frustrate fans worldwide. 

In a world moving towards increased accountability and transparency, where will the sport stand when its biggest ambassadors (Big Three) retire and no faith is left in the heirs of mens’ tennis?