It’s fair to say that no one expected the inaugural Laver Cup to be this successful, not even Roger Federer himself – the man behind the new team event that took Prague by storm last weekend.
There was so much scepticism surrounding the Laver Cup prior to its first edition. People wondered if the players would be invested in it, if the competition would be serious, if the fans would show up and if the idea of Team World v Team Europe would foster an actual rivalry.
Federer himself admitted he was concerned about how team members would get along and whether the team spirit would be there from the start.
The ecstatic reaction of Team Europe when Federer sealed a 15-9 victory for them, and the tears of Nick Kyrgios when he lost that match tiebreak to the Swiss said it all.
With over 83,000 fans showing up over three days, and five sold-out sessions at the impressive O2 Arena, the Laver Cup took everyone by surprise and made a massive statement in its first year.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the action in Prague.
Speaking to Team World captain John McEnroe after the event was over, it was undeniable how emotional the American was feeling.
“I’ve been around a lot of things, a lot of incredible Davis Cup scenarios, it’s hard to feel like you could top this,” said McEnroe, who at one point during the last match between Kyrgios and Federer, just stood up and started raising his arms wildly at the crowd, in an effort to get them behind the team.
Nadal looked like a nervous wreck when Federer was losing to Kyrgios, who cried after he suffered a narrow defeat that ended his team’s comeback.
“You didn’t let us down,” Denis Shapovalov told Kyrgios during the post-match press conference.
The matches were very competitive, and John Isner played the tennis of his life when he defeated Nadal on Sunday to cut Team Europe’s lead to just three points.
And almost all of them said they’d love to be involved next year, assuming they qualify by ranking.
“We even kind of joked before the matches started that, you know, everyone wants to be in the top-six for next year’s event. It’s extra motivation in the rankings,” said Sam Querrey.
“Everything about the event has been amazing. You can’t really think of one thing to change or make better. It’s just been first class with every aspect of the event.”
With matches played over best-of-three, and the third-set being a 10-point tiebreaker, organisers made sure the clashes did not drag on forever.
The fact that matches on day one were worth one point, the ones on day two were worth two points and on day three were triple points meant that the tournament got progressively more competitive and ensured there were no dead rubbers on Sunday.
Having teams alternate the right to answer with their own line-up based on the other team captain’s picks for the day was also a cool touch.
Choosing a city that loves sport but one that does not host any ATP tournaments was a strategic move that paid dividends.
Still cant get over how packed the O2 Arena has been all day. You’ve done well, Prague! pic.twitter.com/NUWhWp1JBb
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 22, 2017
The O2 Arena was at full capacity every session and it’s hard to imagine a better start for the Laver Cup. Chicago will play host next year – another sports-mad location that has no local professional tournaments.
One thing the tournament probably missed is a partisan crowd. With 60 per cent of the tickets sold to people from outside the Czech Republic, it was a very mixed audience in Prague last weekend, and while they were loud and tennis-savvy, it didn’t feel like Team Europe had the home court advantage. That is something that will probably take some time to build as the event gains more traction and people get used to the idea of a ‘Team Europe’ and a ‘Team World’.
The chemistry between the players while watching their team-mates courtside, and the behind-the-scenes footage revealed on social media were arguably the most compelling parts of the Laver Cup, and they drew in the casual fans as much as the die-hard ones.
Borg: You can play from both sides?
Nadal: “Yes… I don’t care” #versatility
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 23, 2017
Tennis often comes off as a very sterile sport and it’s insight like that that can give it a breath of fresh air. Watching Sascha Zverev cool down on a bike while following his team-mates’ matches, or seeing Nadal and Federer mess around between clashes was must-see TV. We need to see more of that throughout the year from the tour.
While I refuse to equate Davis Cup to Laver Cup, the latter has certainly given us a glimpse of what the former is currently lacking – and that is star power. The biggest names in the sport continue to skip Davis Cup ties, which means the inter-nation competition keeps losing lustre and relevance.
Perhaps it’s time to ditch the whole four-times-a-year format and think about having Davis Cup staged over one week each year – or even better, every two years? After all, it’s easier to commit to something when it’s once a year, rather than four.
— NCR Tennis Podcast (@NCR_Tennis) September 27, 2017
John McEnroe believes the ATP tour was wrong not to embrace the Laver Cup — a new tournament which he believes is here to stay.
Taking part as the captain of Team World — which lost 9-15 to Europe in Prague on Sunday — McEnroe raved about the inaugural edition of the event.
“It’s been awesome to be out there. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t wait to do this again. I mean, you feel like you want to do it again sooner than a year from now,” said the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
The O2 Arena in Prague hosted a sellout crowd for every session of the three-day event with a total of 83,273 fans coming through the doors over the weekend.
The competition came down to the wire in the final day of action as Roger Federer came through a tight affair with Nick Kyrgios to secure the win over the Europeans.
“I don’t think any of us realised it would be this good,” confessed McEnroe, of an event conceived by Federer and his management company Team8.
“The key (to it sticking around) is that I think the top players are going to buy into it. And I think that anyone that watched this, I can’t imagine that they can’t think this is like a total win-win for tennis. You’ve got to be an idiot if you don’t think this is something that’s going to be great for tennis.
“I can’t imagine there’s a player that played or didn’t play for that matter that watched that didn’t think this is something that we should be supporting.”
The USTA and Tennis Australia have backed the Laver Cup, but the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the ATP are reportedly not pleased with the event and its timing.
Tournament directors of ATP events coinciding with the Laver Cup this past week — 250s in Metz and St. Petersburg — can understandably be irked by the newly-introduced team competition, that has taken away 14 world-class players from the tour to go play in Prague.
But McEnroe believes the ATP should have been on board with Laver Cup from the start
“I think that the ATP made a mistake not realising that this thing was going to be a big thing in the beginning,” said the American.
“I tried to tell them that from the beginning and they’re trying to come up with some event on their own (World Team Cup), I’m not exactly even sure what it is, but the important thing is that you take a step back and realise ‘look, this is something that’s important and could be really good for tennis’.
“I don’t know how much you know about baseball but you know Babe Ruth was this legendary figure, that’s what Rod Laver is for tennis, so to me, you got his name associated with it, and Roger Federer backed it up, that’s a really strong start and then the way it panned out… at the end I just found myself going like this (waving his arms up to rally the crowd), it was amazing, I wish I was playing.”
Between the animated crowd, the level of competition, and the Team World elaborate celebrations taking place on the sidelines, the atmosphere was perhaps one of the most surprising elements of the event, considering it is just in its first year and had been met with lots of scepticism before it even started.
“I’ve been around a lot of things, a lot of incredible Davis Cup scenarios, it’s hard to feel like you could top this,” concluded McEnroe.
Roger Federer paid tribute to the great Rod Laver during the trophy ceremony after Team Europe clinched the inaugural Laver Cup with a 15-9 victory over Team World on Sunday in Prague.
In front of a sellout crowd at the O2 Arena in the Czech capital, Federer — the man behind the idea of the Laver Cup — edged past Nick Kyrgios 4-6, 7-6 (6), [11-9] to claim the title for the Europeans and avoid entering a deciding doubles set.
Rafael Nadal had lost his singles match to an inspired John Isner 7-5, 7-6 (1) in the previous clash of the day, and jokingly thanked Federer for sealing the deal for the team, admitting he was nervous about their prospects should play had gone to deciding doubles.
Federer, who says he thought of the idea of the Laver Cup to honour the legacy of the Australian legend, who achieved the Grand Slam twice in the 1960s.
“I had a vision once upon a time, that we should honour the great players of our sport because there’s only that many roles that a legend can have in our sport. Seems like coaching is one, and the Seniors tour or the Champions tour and I just thought it was not enough,” said Federer during the trophy ceremony.
“I felt like we needed to see the legends of our sport more frequently and I thought of who we’d like to thank — it’s not just the players that standing on court today. But there’s so many more that have paved the way for us, that we can enjoy playing in front of a crowd like yourself and earn a living and live our dream. Because I think for all of us all we wanted to do all our life is play tennis, and here we are so…
“And of course, the great man, Rod Laver. It’s so nice to see you here, healthy, in full flight watching all the matches, and being so happy to see us play. We battled hard and I hope you’re happy because I am extremely happy.
“So thanks for being here… and thanks for showing us class. We’ll try hard to represent the sport as good as we can. Thank you very much.”
A devastated-looking Kyrgios got emotional after losing the close battle with Federer, perhaps dispelling any concerns about how serious the players were taking this new tournament.
“Yeah, it was tough. When I’m playing for myself, you know, sometimes I don’t put the greatest effort in when I play on my own. When I play with these guys and I’m playing for something as a team, I’m not just playing for myself out there. I’m playing for the whole team,” said Kyrgios.
Team World will be just fine… they’re also potential contestants on the X Factor pic.twitter.com/0lAt3UQZwT
— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) September 24, 2017
“It’s the same in Davis Cup. I’m playing for the country, playing for the guys on the bench. I know that every single one of these guys up here has put effort into this week, whether that’s practice, supporting other guys.
“You know, Johnny Mac supporting us, P-Mac helping us with everything. We all bought in as a team. That’s why it hurt. I gave everything I had. I came short, and I knew that we were going to be favourites going to the doubles. That was in the back of my mind.
“Yeah, it just hurt because I knew I didn’t want to let these guys down. I wanted to come through but I didn’t. Yeah, that’s why I got a bit emotional out there.”
Set to be an annual event pitting a team representing Europe and a team representing the rest of the world, the Laver Cup will head to the United States next year and will be staged in Chicago.