When Roger Federer came up with the idea for the Laver Cup a few years ago, he envisioned a low-key “weekend tennis festival” that would honor the old greats and give today’s stars the opportunity to. mentor the rising generation.
It was one of the few times in his career that Federer could be accused of having low expectations.
The third edition of the event starts on Friday at Federer’s in Geneva. The first two editions of the Laver Cup – in Prague (2017) and Chicago (2018) – were resounding successes. So much so that last May, the ATP ditched its ingrained antagonism towards exhibitions and adopted the Laver Cup as the official tour event (although players will not earn ranking points for various rules-related reasons. of the tour).
“The Laver Cup struck a chord with fans around the world in a very short period of time,” ATP CEO Chris Kermode said in May. “It’s great to see the passionate participation from players and the response from fans during the sold-out events.… The ATP is delighted to include the Laver Cup as an official part of the ATP Tour calendar and to make it appear alongside other tournaments on all of our platforms. “
Named after living legend Rod Laver and starring Captains John McEnroe (Team World) and Bjorn Borg (Team Europe), the Laver Cup became a hot ticket in the blink of an eye. It was created with laudable intention, and it enjoyed immediate appeal and immediate credibility. Call it karma.
“[Originally] I just thought I would create a big event… come up with a big concept where we can honor the legends of the game, ”Federer said at a press conference in February.
It was immediately obvious that the Laver Cup was not just a weekend for Federer. Fans flocked to the event even though it didn’t affect the standings.
“I know the Geneva fans from the matches I have played here in the past,” Federer told reporters on Wednesday. “I expect it to be really good and strong. They’ve got a way to kick their feet on the bleachers and create that kind of thunder effect, which I think is going to be really cool.”
The Laver Cup, played in large indoor arenas, features streamlined scores, workouts, and attributes that are more like a rock concert or WWE event. The resounding success of the event at a time when tennis is keen to woo young fans and speed up matches has led many stakeholders to take note. It is no coincidence that starting this year, the Davis Cup will feature a streamlined format and take place at a single venue, ostensibly creating a mega-festival of tennis. ATP has also launched the ATP Cup, another new international team competition that will absorb most of tennis’s bandwidth ahead of the Australian Open in January.
The Laver Cup comes a long way after the US Open. Once again, Federer pulled an impressive array of stars out of his magic hat, none of these bunnies are more impressive than US Open winner Rafael Nadal.
While good friends Federer and Nadal have often supported each other in their endeavors, Nadal had many reasonable excuses for skipping the Laver Cup this year, starting with the need to rest his tendon-prone knees. Instead, shortly after his triumph in New York City, Nadal told ATP that any conversation about his schedule for the rest of the year will have to wait a few days “to see how my body heals.” He added: “But one thing I have is the 2019 Laver Cup, which is on my calendar.”
“He fits in very well with the squad,” Federer said of Nadal this week. “He puts everyone at ease and gives a lot of energy and motivation.”
Nadal is not the only one whose Laver Cup experience has been so enjoyable that he has scored a comeback after missing the last edition due to injury. Join Nadal as repeat performers this year: Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev (both Team Europe), and John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov and Jack Sock (all Team World). Among the newcomers: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Fabio Fognini for Team Europe, and Milos Raonic and Taylor Fritz for Team World.
“I would describe it as a dream of a lifetime, to share the field with them,” Tsitsipas said of Federer and Nadal on Wednesday, “to experience things with them and learn as much as possible”.
Novak Djokovic is conspicuous by his absence. Still ranked No.1, Djokovic was an effective replacement for Nadal in the European squad last year. He then praised the concept and format of the Laver Cup. But long before he suffered a shoulder injury and was forced to retire in a fourth-round match at the US Open, his lack of attendance at pre-season media events indicated he would not be available for this. year. He is still the third wheel in the “Federal” relationship, but Djokovic expects to return to the regular tour during this Asian ATP swing.
We will miss Djokovic but not that much because of the star lineups. The potential appeal of the Laver Cup was evident from the start. Fans jumped at the chance to watch a handful of the game’s top stars in a single afternoon or evening from one seat. The compressed format (scoring is traditional, but a tiebreaker replaces any third set, much like in ATP doubles) was successful. Spectators are okay with seeing shorter matches and more players, and don’t care about the Laver Cup’s place in the bigger picture of sanctioned tournament tennis.
The coaches and on-field benches of both teams also received praise. One of Federer’s fears at the start was that as team members weren’t forced to stay if they weren’t on the pitch, the benches would be largely empty. But almost all of the players have been on the sidelines for the duration of the playing sessions. Fans can watch Captains McEnroe and Borg, as well as the players clap, advise, shout advice and clown on the sidelines.
“They’re amazing,” Shapovalov said of his Team World friends last year. “It was so much fun [playing before them]. I laughed on the court. They are unreal. “
The Laver Cup optics add credence to the complaint that the fun factor is lacking in tour-level tennis these days. Turns out fans aren’t that fickle or hard to please. Give them big names, stuff to watch besides the game and get things done, and you’re good. The zeal of the players on the sidelines during matches also ignites the spectators. Those sometimes lonely weeks and months of one-on-one competition can create a powerful thirst for camaraderie that is commonly found in team sports.
Maybe no one enjoyed the team experience more than Kyrgios, who said in Chicago: “I love the team event. I like to get behind my teammates and do all I can. as a competitor and a team player to achieve victory. “
Show or not, winning clearly counted in the first two editions (both won by Team Europe). Eight of the 11 games in Chicago were decided by a tiebreaker. As Federer said last September, “The only way to be successful is for the players to care. And they did. I think you see it.”
Federer described the intensity in Prague, where the first Laver Cup was held in 2011, and Chicago as “crazy”. He admitted he was “extremely nervous” having to play with Nadal and Borg watching from the bench. “It makes your heart beat faster,” he said this year. “I am sure it will be the same in Geneva. We are very excited.”
After that heartbreaking loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon and a failure against Grigor Dimitrov at the US Open, the Laver Cup may just be the tonic Federer needs.