Ever since the new-concept Laver Cup tennis event was launched a year ago in New York, it has promised star-appeal by the bucket-load.
That very first announcement, at 9am in a luxury hotel in the heart of Manhattan, brought together the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg—a combined tally of 53 Major singles—in honour of a fifth member of the elite tennis hierarchy.
The object of their attention, though not big in physical stature, is certainly big in tennis stature. Rod Laver, a slight man of just 5ft 8in, is now 79 years old, but many—including the quartet gathered in his honour—believe him to be the greatest tennis of all time.
Laver won 11 singles Majors of his own, along with many more in doubles, and would have had a lot more had the tennis tour not split into professional and amateur branches during the 1960s when the Australian was at his peak. He won his first calendar Grand Slam in 1962, then completed a second after tennis finally went ‘Open’ in 1969, and in between, he won eight Pro Championships from 14 finals.
That coming together in New York was the fruition of a concept announced by Federer and his agent Tony Godsick at last year’s Australian Open. The Swiss star explained: “Rod Laver is someone I’ve always thought was very inspiring.
“I think it’s important to leave a legacy for the legends, and Rod Laver to me stands out because of his achievements and his character. And that’s when the idea came of the Laver Cup.”
And name by impressive name, the event has built its way towards its debut in a week’s time in Prague.
Laver Cup Fast Facts
The Laver Cup is a three-day tournament pitting a team of six of the best tennis players from Europe against six of their counterparts from the rest of the world
For the first three years, Borg will captain Europe and McEnroe Team World
The location will rotate between Europe and the rest of the world each year—the 2018 edition will take place in the United States
It will be staged annually two weeks after the US Open, except in summer Olympic years
Borg, captain of Team Europe, will surely be rubbing his hands in glee. Nadal and Federer committed to his squad early last year, both subsequently suffered serious injuries, and began this year at No9 and No17 respectively. As they embark on the Laver Cup, Nadal and Federer are Nos 1 and 2 in the world and boast a clean sweep of this year’s Majors.
The quiet Swede may then have let out a whoop as the two highest ranked young stars to rise through the ranks since that day in Manhattan a year ago, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, were added, along with one of the most consistent men of the last decade, Tomas Berdych.
Zverev, the charismatic German 20-year-old, is up to No4 in the world this week after winning two Masters titles this year, and tops the #NextGen rankings by a country mile. He could, indeed, play in both the #NextGen Finals in Milan and the World Tour Finals in London. He was No27 12 months ago, but now counts Federer among his scalps.
The Swiss, who beat him to the Halle title in June, said: “I think he’s going to be one of the great players for the next 10 years in our game, a great sport, and I’m sure he’s going to be a great team player, as well.”
Thiem, the popular Austrian 24-year-old with a show-stopping one-handed backhand, last year won four titles from six finals, made his first Masters final in May, and has now made the semis of the French Open twice. He is this week at a career-high No7.
Making up the Europe squad is Marin Cilic, one of the few men outside the ‘big four’ to win a Major, and just this summer the runner-up at Wimbledon. He spent much of last year outside the top 10 after a series of injury problems, but rose to a personal high of No5 this week.
So five of this week’s top seven will grace the Europe squad, with Berdych, playing on home Czech soil, bringing up the rear inside the top 20.
The playing format
The competition will be played over three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday
There will be five sessions, two on Friday and Saturday, and one on Sunday
Four matches will be played daily, three singles and one doubles
Both singles and doubles will be best-of-three sets with ad scoring, with the third set decided by a 10-point tiebreak in the event of split sets
In the event of a tie after all 12 matches have been completed, a final overtime doubles match will be played as a regular set with ad scoring and a tiebreak
Each player will play at least one singles match during the first two days
No player will play singles more than twice during the three days
At least four of the six players must play doubles
Match-ups will be determined prior to each day of play through the exchange of line-up cards by the captains
Each match win will be worth one point on Friday, two points on Saturday and three points on Sunday.
What does John McEnroe’s World Team have to counter such strength and depth? Well he began with some North American powerhouses: Milos Raonic, John Isner, Sam Querrey and Jack Sock. Querrey in particular has enjoyed one of his best seasons to reach a personal high of No16, beating Nadal to the Acapulco title and making the Wimbledon semis.
But Raonic, No3 at the end of last year, was forced to pull out with the latest in a string of injuries. So what a catch for McEnroe to fill the space: the high profile, high-octane Australian Nick Kyrgios, who scored wins of Novak Djokovic and Nadal this season, and played one half of the best three-set match of the year so far against Federer in Miami, and then made the final in Cincinnati. Kyrgios may only be ranked 20 at the moment, but he will be one of the most feared members of the World Team.
Then come the captain’s picks, announced last week, and McEnroe may have allowed himself a smile at his catch.
Juan Martin del Potro, lately fresh from beating Thiem and Federer at the US Open, is playing the kind of tennis that won him the title there in 2009. Just over a year ago, he was ranked outside the top 1000 after repeated bouts of surgery to his wrists, but his semi run in New York took the former No4 back to 24 and, as McEnroe explained:
“Almost every player on Team Europe has experienced the heat of Juan Martin’s huge forehand and power game. Regardless of his current ranking, he will be a tough player to beat.”
Also in McEnroe’s net is one of the biggest names to emerge during the North American season, teenage star Denis Shapovalov.
Last year’s junior Wimbledon champion, the Canadian was ranked 250 at the start of this year, went on a winning spree in Challenger events before storming to the semis of his home Masters in Montreal with wins over Nadal and del Potro. Not content with that, he thrilled the New York crowds by coming through qualifying to the fourth round with his crowd-pleasing attacking game, before he fell in three long tie-breakers to Pablo Carreno Busta.
Shapovalov is now ranked 51 at just 18 years of age, and McEnroe believes that the teenager’s ability to embrace the big occasions sets him apart:
“Denis has shown that he competes very well under the pressure of big matches. His youthful energy and aggressive style of play will be a great addition to our team… I think this young man is going to be a great, great player… He’s also a left-hander, like Mr Rod Laver and myself.”
The last additions to the line-ups are two vice-captains, American Patrick McEnroe, who will support brother John, and Sweden’s Thomas Enqvist, who will stand alongside fellow Swede Borg. He said of his childhood idol: “[Bjorn] is the reason I wanted to play tennis. My whole life he’s been my biggest idol!”
Team Europe: captain Bjorn Borg, (Thomas Enqvist, vice captain)
Players: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Tomas Berdych
Team World: captain John McEnroe, (Patrick McEnroe, vice captain)
Players: John Isner, Sam Querrey, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Juan Martin del Potro, Denis Shapovalov
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