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Laver Cup | Controversial competition opens in Prague

Laver Cup | Controversial competition opens in Prague

If the governing bodies think that the Laver Cup is merely a flash in the pan, they are very wrong.

The ATP Tour and the ITF are uneasy about an unofficial event cluttering up an already congested calendar, conflicting with tournaments in Metz and St Petersburg and rivalling the 117-year old Davis Cup.

According to reports, the respective heads of both bodies, Chris Kermode and Dave Haggerty, both declined invitations to attend, although All England Club Chairman Philip Brook has elected to be present.

I like the idea of what we are seeing, you know, bringing the best of the best together. You know that I have had a lot of history with Davis Cup, but I believe that they have been very slow in doing anything different, and so maybe this will push it along. Hopefully they both can do well, but but I believe that this is something that, hopefully, will be something that will be a big boost for tennis. The Laver Cup, I think this could be an incredible thing. John McEnroe

The razzmatazz leading into the inaugural competition being held in Prague over this weekend, with teams from Europe and the rest of the World being welcomed in the heart of the city in front of massive crowds and a dramatic draw ceremony, testify to the seriousness of the project and is certain to increase official discomfort.

John McEnroe is hoping the event will force the ITF to rethink the current Davis Cup format and introduce necessary changes.

This year’s Laver Cup comes just one week after the Davis Cup semi-finals and play-offs, which did not feature many of the top players, who have struggled to commit to the inter-nation competition for quite some time now.

Many, including top players, have voiced their opinions about changes necessary to evolve Davis Cup and ensure they can take part during what is undoubtedly a jam-packed tennis calendar.

“I like the idea of what we are seeing, you know, bringing the best of the best together,” he said.

“You know that I have had a lot of history with Davis Cup, but I believe that they have been very slow in doing anything different, and so maybe this will push it along.

“Hopefully they both can do well, but but I believe that this is something that, hopefully, will be something that will be a big boost for tennis. The Laver Cup, I think this could be an incredible thing.”

And so it is Prague where, ferried in blue and red Mercedes-Benz G-Class SUVs, the Team Europe squad led by legend Björn Borg and opponents Team World led by Borg’s former rival McEnroe, were taken to the Old Town Square for a welcome ceremony.

Tourists and tennis fans surrounded the large stage set up in this historic centre of Prague, to witness history being made for this new event, starring World No 1 Rafael Nadal, No 2 Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Them, Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe.

Federer and his manager, Tony Godsick, worked for more than four years on creating a unique event to rival the Ryder Cup in golf, backed by Rolex as its founding partner, and JP Morgan and Mercedes as global sponsors, while suppliers Moët & Chandon, Nike, Wilson and Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours, Inc. are the Laver Cup global suppliers.

Behind the scenes the main backers are Federer’s management company, TEAM8, Brazilian businessman and former Davis Cup player Jorge Paulo Lemann, and Tennis Australia.

They’ve done a great job too, with the Laver Cup being transmitted in more than 200 Countries around the world and expecting to attract around one billion people on TV and social network platforms.

Fans from all over the World are able to watch matches live, starting with Friday’s day session, via around 25 hours of live broadcast over the weekend.

The teams are playing for a magnificent trophy, silverware made from the molten metal of one of Rod Laver’s first cups with design elements from all four of the Grand Slam trophies the Rocket won during his unrivalled professional career.

Laver is the event talisman and the Laver Cup was created to honour him as the greatest player of the twentieth century.

He is, course, on hand and fully engaged in the event’s success, ‘honoured and excited’ to have had an event named after him.

He is also feeling a tinge of regret in Prague this weekend” “I would love to have been able to compete in it,” the 79-year-old Australian confessed.

On Thursday, as they were presented to the public, the players insisted that although there are no ATP points attached to it, the Laver Cup is no mere exhibition but a serious team competition with a great future.

“We are here to try our best, I wake up today at 6am in the morning to practice,” said Nadal.

“I don’t practice for an exhibition match. We are here to try our best and try to win.

“We want to play with passion and to play for our continent, we have a great team behind us and want to do it well, let’s see if we are able to do it.”

Federer was also keen to stress the value of the tournament, saying Team Europe have been ‘strategising’ for several days and were ready to give ‘everything’ they have to win.

“The guys all arrived a day early, they were supposed to arrive on Wednesday, but they all came in on Tuesday,” said Federer, emphasising that the teams are staying in different hotels and are fired up for the inaugural clash that will feature six players contesting nine singles and three doubles matches, with a possible sudden death decider.

Despite the slick choreography and cool, city-wide marketing, the event was dealt a major blow before a ball was struck when Juan Martin del Potro pulled out of Team World, declaring he is not yet 100 percent fit, and was replaced by America’s Frances Tiafoe, thereby weakening the team even further.

The fact that Team Europe towers in stature over the underdogs from the rest of the World must be a disappointment for Federer and his backers, but a sell-out crowd for the entire weekend in Prague and a massive worldwide television audience will ultimately guarantee its success.

When the players arrived at the O2 Arena in Prague earlier this week, they were stunned to see that it has been fitted out with a ‘black’ court.

Speaking to the press ahead of the tournament, Tournament Director Steve Zacks said: “We worked very hard to deliver the blackest court that’s ever been delivered.

“We made very special paint and we tested it three times under light. It’s going to present beautifully.”

The organisers hope that it will help to improve the experience for spectators in the arena as well as the worldwide television audience since following the yellow ball against a black background is made easier.

It is, in fact, a hard court that is effectively the same surface as the Australian Open is played on, but just a different colour.

Day One action began with a spectacular opening ceremony befitting the newest event on the global tennis stage, followed by the first match between Team World’s Frances Tiafoe and Team Europe’s Marin Cilic.

Fans were treated to a digital display and light show featuring the career of dual Grand Slam champion Rod Laver, for whom the competition is named after.

With the O2 Arena flooded by pools of red and blue lights, team captains John McEnroe for Team World and Björn Borg for Team Europe, stepped onto the black centre court, followed by their respective team members.

Opening battle on the black court were Marin Cilic for Team Europe against Frances Taifoe of Team World.

The 19-year old American put in a fine performance but faltered in the two tiebreaks against the more experienced Croatian, who won Europe’s first point of the Laver Cup, 7-6(3) 7-6(0).

First blood to Europe.

About The Author

Barbara Wancke

Barbara Wancke is a Tennis Threads Tennis Correspondent who has been involved in the sport for over 40 years, not only as a former player, umpire and coach but primarily as an administrator and tennis writer contributing over the years to Lawn Tennis, Tennis World, and Tennis Today. She has worked with the Dunlop Sports Co, IMG and at the ITF as Director of Women’s Tennis, responsible, amongst other things, for the running of the Federation Cup (now Fed Cup), and acting as Technical Director for tennis at the Seoul Olympics (1988). She subsequently set up her own tennis consultancy Tennis Interlink and was elected to the Board of the TIA UK where she became the Executive Administrator and Executive Vice President until she stood down in July 2014 and is currently an Honorary Vice President.

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