Geneva | Can McEnroe’s Team World beat Laver Cup favourites?
The teams have arrived in Geneva for the Laver Cup, Roger Federer’s unique competition that this year is being played on his home turf.
We’ve got to be strategic, Team Europe is going to be tough to beat. John McEnroe
Team World have yet to win the Laver Cup, which was inaugurated in 2017, but Captain John McEnroe remains optimistic.
“The first two years were beyond everybody’s expectations, especially the first year when no-one really knew what to think going into it, but Roger and his team put on an incredible event,” said the American.
The red team narrowly lost out to team Europe in thrilling contests two years ago in Prague, and in Chicago last year.
Captain McEnroe, with his brother Patrick once again alongside him as Vice Captain, is determined to turn his team’s fortunes around.
With Kevin Anderson withdrawing from the event this week due to a right knee injury that has sidelined him since Wimbledon, McEnroe added Americans Taylor Fritz and Jack Sock to a packed team that already included John Isner and Milos Raonic, both former Top 10 players; and Nick Kyrgios and Denis Shapovalov, both former Top 20 players.
“Jack has been our MVP for the past two years and I’m delighted he’ll be joining us in Geneva this year,” McEnroe said.
“We’ve got to be strategic, Team Europe is going to be tough to beat.
“For us, doubles has been very important over the past couple of years. We’ve won the great majority of our doubles matches and obviously Jack was a big part of that.
“He’s one of the best doubles players in the world, tremendously versatile and a great team player – it’s an environment he thrives in. I think he may very well be the key to success for us in Geneva.”
Team World has gone 3-14 in singles in Laver Cup, but they’re 5-1 in doubles, all with Sock.
McEnroe cast a watchful eye as Kyrgios practiced on the famous black court, while Raonic and Fritz also took the chance to have a first hit in the arena.
Sock is making his third appearance at the Laver Cup and hoping to add to his impressive haul of 10 points.
“On paper we are the heavy, heavy underdogs but we’ve been a point, a couple of points, a match away the last two years,” Sock said.
“This year I didn’t think it was possible with the surgery, and I wasn’t playing my best singles, but my doubles success the last two years helped me get a captain’s pick.
“I’m just grateful to be here. I’m really, really excited to see the guys.”
Sock is convinced that the camaraderie fostered on the Team World bench over the past two years will play a huge role in helping them get their hands on the trophy for the first time.
“I think that’s what has given us a chance, the last two years,” added Sock.
“It doesn’t matter if you haven’t won a match in five years or you’ve won every match. I just thrive being out there; I love playing in front of a huge crowd.”
Also competing for Team World is Denis Shapovalov, the young Canadian who is making his second appearance at the Laver Cup.
The 20-year-old is back in Captain McEnroe’s line-up after missing out 12 months ago and relishing the chance to reconnect with his teammates.
“It’s definitely completely different from any event I’ve played,” said Shapovalov.
“Having that bit of experience from Prague will help this time around. We don’t get to play on a team too often and especially with players from different countries.
“Two years ago, I loved the competition, so I’m excited to get started.
“The last time I was playing I was in really good form, really good shape in Prague and it was just a great time. I’m really excited to be in Geneva, it’s my first time here.”
Kyrgios is also excited to be in Geneva, even though he continues to divide opinion on the tennis circuit, with some calling for him to be suspended from the ATP tour on account of his recent behaviour.
The 24-year-old Australian remains enthusiastic and enjoys the support from his team-mates.
“I’ve always said that the Laver Cup is my favourite week of the year, and how much it means to me to get around the team and play for something bigger than just myself,” Kyrgios said.
“At the Laver Cup it’s not just about me, it’s about doing everything I can to help the other guys feel comfortable, prepare for their matches and even give them some energy from the side of the court, if that’s what needs to be done.
“We’ve had some heartbreaking losses over the past couple of years and it means the world to me to have the chance to get out there again with the team and try to get the win for Team World.
” We are not going to Geneva just to make up the numbers – we are going there to bring home that magnificent trophy.”
Federer was among the first to arrive in Geneva, relishing the prospect of enjoying the fruits of his labours in establishing the Laver Cup.
After practising on the now distinctive black court, he revealed that Team Europe members share a WhatsApp group together every year and the Swiss, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Fabio Fognini are all included.
“Last year’s chat is still here and I am the guy who likes looking back at previous years. But the old chat became silent and a new one was created,” he said.
Newcomer Tsitsipas described the prospect of playing alongside Federer and Nadal as a ‘lifetime dream’ as his team’s Laver Cup preparations began in earnest at Palexpo.
The Greek practiced with Federer and his Team Europe teammates as they attempt to win the Laver Cup for the third time in a row.
The blue team again boasts an impressive line-up and are the clear favourites.
Tsitsipas is especially excited by the prospect of spending time with Federer and Nadal, winners of 39 Grand Slam titles between them.
“It’s quite special to have these two guys be part of our team,” said the Greek.
“I would describe it as a lifetime dream, sharing the court with them, experiencing things with them and getting to learn as much as I can.”
Tsitsipas has enjoyed an impressive rise up the rankings, breaking into the world’s top 10 in March and reaching a career-high at No 5 last month.
“I was actually looking forward to that for a long time. I’m really glad to be part of a team,” he said.
“It’s great, first time here in Geneva. I like Switzerland as a country, it’s a great place with a great landscape. The people are nice and they understand about tennis. It’s an honour to be part of the Laver Cup.”
Thiem made his Laver Cup debut in Prague two years ago.
“Of course, I’m so excited,” he said. “I loved it two years ago and unfortunately skipped it last year.
“I was so happy when I confirmed for this year. We have to win, it would be very nice if we could make it three out of three.
“We are very strong, they are very strong. I expect a close match but I hope we can pull through once again.”
Federer is confident that the purpose-built arena will become a cauldron of noise when 17,000 tennis fans pack it to the rafters from Friday over this coming weekend.
The Swiss took a tour of the venue on Tuesday and was impressed by the scale of the arena.
“I know the Geneva fans because of matches I’ve played here in the past,” he said.
“I expect it to be really good and loud. They have a way to knock their feet onto the stands and create this sort of thunder effect, which I think is going to be very cool.
“Maybe some of the players are not used to it but it’s kind of a Swiss thing. It’s quite a structure, it’s just going to be vast.”
One of the original concerns at the beginning hinged on the interest level of the players, with no ATP Tour points available and no tradition or history, and some worried that world class players would treat the event like a glorified exhibition.
The atmosphere in Prague and then again in 2018 in Chicago, however, was electric and there was little doubt as to the players commitment to winning the trophy.
Fist pumping, enthusiastic celebration from team members on the bench and raucous sell out crowd participation all fuelled the atmosphere, while the camaraderie of the players, who almost always play as individuals, created a compelling scene.
While the anticipation of Team Europe teammates Nadal & Federer pairing up in doubles at the inaugural 2017 event ignited early curiosity, it was actually the emotion of tennis enigma Kyrgios that captured interest in the first two years.
Kyrgios, playing for Team World for the third time in 2019, broke into tears after losing the final match to Federer in 2017.
About the inaugural event, Kyrgios later said: “It was amazing for me. To be a part of that, something special for me was probably the funest week of my career so far, better than the Grand Slams.”
Last year, Team Europe’s Zverev smashed his racket after making errors in singles and Team World’s John Isner joyously jumped around the court while mobbed by teammates after a doubles win.
Sometimes compared to golf’s Ryder Cup, The Laver Cup matches a 6 man team from Europe against a 6 man team from the rest of the world in the 3 day event to decide who takes home the cup.
Teams comprise a mix of players who qualify with ranking status along with members chosen by the captains.
For the third straight year, Swedish legend Bjorn Borg captains Team Europe while America’s McEnroe leads Team World.
Nine singles matches and 3 doubles matches are split evenly over the 3 days of competition.
Matches are best of three sets with the third set being a first to 10 points tiebreak.
There are two sessions of matches on Friday and Saturday and the single Sunday session can have up to 4 matches, plus a one set event tiebreak if needed.
Three singles and one doubles match are scheduled each day, with Friday matches worth 1 point, Saturday matches 2 points and Sunday matches 3 points.
A team needs 13 points to capture the Laver Cup.
With half of the 24 available points awarded on Sunday, the event cannot be decided until the final day, and If the teams are tied 12-12 after all matches are played, a 1-set doubles match decides the entire affair.
Different from other big-time tennis events, Laver Cup doubles take a turn occupying centre stage and count for a full one third of the points.
As a result, these are frequently played by the megastars, with Federer & Nadal teaming up in 2017 and the pairing of Federer and rival Novak Djokovic debuting in 2018.
Last year, the Team World pair of Sock & Isner saved match points, then knocked off Europe’s Federer & Zverev in an utterly thrilling Day 3 doubles match to give Team World a lead on Day 3 for the first time in Laver Cup history.
Sock holds the unique status of being the only player to have played in every Laver Cup doubles match in history, and brings a 5-1 Laver Cup doubles record into the 2019 matches.
Laver Cup rules and scoring bring focus to decisions made by the captains and teams since all 6 team members must play singles on Day 1 or Day 2, but none can play both.
At the same time, Day 1 matches are worth 1 point each while Day 2 matches are worth 2 points apiece so, if Borg wants to grab a quick lead by sending Nadal & Federer out early on Day 1, he can try that plan but then the two megastars are unavailable for singles on Day 2.
Waiting to send big guns out on Day 2, however, may put a team in a hole and ignite momentum for the opponent.
It all requires strategic thought and makes for fascinating watching.
Winning team players earn about $250,000 each, plus their guaranteed appearance fees that vary greatly from player to player.
To watch the Laver Cup, sign up to Amazon Prime for live streaming of every match.