Roger Federer admits stepping up for the doubles with Rafael Nadal on Saturday night at the Laver Cup in Prague will be “difficult” but he is relishing the opportunity of teaming up with his long-time rival.
Federer has not played doubles in two years — since a Davis Cup World Group play-off against the Netherlands in 2015 — and he acknowledges the adjustment it requires from him.
The prospect of Federer and Nadal playing doubles together has been heavily promoted from the second the idea of the Laver Cup was first announced during the 2016 Australian Open.
It is a sight fans have been longing to witness — in a competitive capacity — and it will finally happen in the Czech capital on Saturday night when Federer and Nadal represent Team Europe against Team World’s Jack Sock and Sam Querrey.
“Yes, it’s going to be difficult. Unfortunately, it’s the truth,” Federer told reporters of the challenge of playing doubles, after defeating Querrey 6-4, 6-2 to extend Team Europe’s lead over Team World on Saturday.
“But, you know, I think doubles is very much a return, a serve, a volley, there. We saw the doubles yesterday.
“You could argue that Sock and Kyrgios were a tiny bit better maybe, especially in the beginning, but at the end, they still had to — they were at, I don’t know, 6-All in the super-tiebreaker and anything could happen.
“I think it’s going to be very much an intensity and energy situation for us tonight. I don’t worry about Rafa, to be honest. And me being next to Rafa, I know that I’ll be moving around, as well. So I just have to, you know, kind of find my groove, I guess, to some extent.”
For a pair of fierce rivals, Federer and Nadal have maintained a friendly relationship over the years and as they inch closer towards the ends of their careers, they’ve managed to be more about their friendship and have helped each other raising funds for their respective foundations and with other ventures like the Laver Cup – in Federer’s case – and the launching the Rafa Nadal Academy.
Asked if he has discovered anything new about Nadal having spent a lot of time with him closely during the Laver Cup this week, Federer said: “I think the very, very new situation will be (being) on the same side of him in a doubles that is going to be ultra competitive. That’s going to be the real changer.
“Other than that, you know, I have played charity matches with him, so that’s when you’re very laid back and, you know, you’re happy raising funds. You know, you also want to have a good time. Loads of things to do. You know, that’s when I got to know his family, and like when I went last year to his academy, all these things are on a very relaxed level.
“So I know Rafa for so long that I have seen his relaxed mode. Now I have seen him sort of preparing, you know, within a team, and I can see he’s a wonderful team player. He always thinks of the team members first. That’s wonderful.
“Then he’s just got great energy and a good balance. I think that’s why he has longevity, to be honest, because he’s ultra intense when he gets on the court. Once the camera goes on to him, he’s in that mode. But actually, away from it, he’s very relaxed.
“I feel like I’m the same way. I think like you can only manage it this way when you want to achieve longevity.
“Yeah, he’s a joy to be around. I’m happy that he’s on our side of the team, to be honest.”
* Video footage courtesy of Laver Cup
Alexander Zverev can easily have a career as a Master of Ceremony if the tennis thing doesn’t work out as the German gave the perfect introduction to Roger Federer during the Laver Cup gala night on Thursday in Prague.
Zverev, who is 16 years younger than Federer, recalled a time when he met the Swiss legend as a five-year-old at the Hamburg Masters, where he asked him for his autograph.
“I was just looking at him, ‘can I please have an autograph?’He was ‘like, yeah sure’…” said Zverev.
“He started responding to me in German, which back then, as a kid, I didn’t know that Swiss people speak German. So you know, that was very nerve-wracking, so I got his autograph, he started talking to me, he said ‘well maybe if you work hard, one day we might be playing each other, somewhere’.
“And I was like, ‘well yeah, maybe’ (laughter). But no chance you could have known that we would have been on one team.
“So please welcome 19-time Grand Slam champion, Roger Federer.”
Federer gave Rafael Nadal an equally-impressive introduction, recalling the time the Spaniard beat him in their first-ever meeting in Miami.
Watch the video above for highlights from the gala night and footage of their introductions.
Newly-crowned US Open champion Sloane Stephens will take on Qiang Wang of China in the first round of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open in what will be the American’s first competitive match since lifting the trophy at Flushing Meadows earlier this month.
Stephens has not played since winning her home Grand Slam.
The 24-year-old arrived in Wuhan on Friday and will play her opening match on either Sunday or Monday at the US$2,666,000 WTA Premier 5 event.
Friday’s official draw pitched defending Wuhan Open champion Petra Kvitova against China’s Shuai Peng in a match which could split the loyalties of local tennis fans in Wuhan. Kvitova, who also won the tournament in its inaugural year in 2014, is a huge favourite at the Optics Valley International Tennis Centre.
Elsewhere in the draw, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova takes on Alize Cornet; ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska is up against Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova and China’s home hope Shuai Zhang takes on talented Croatian Donna Vekic.
In a battle of the young guns of women’s tennis, American Catherine Bellis takes on Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, with the winner to play fifth seed Johanna Konta in round two. Konta, as one of the top eight seeds, receives a bye into round two.
Madison Keys, who Stephens beat in an all-American final in New York, will face a qualifier in her opening match.
World No.1 Garbine Muguruza is top seed in Wuhan.
2017 DONGFENG MOTOR WUHAN OPEN – WUHAN, CHINA
22-30 September, 2017
 G. Muguruza (ESP) – Bye
C. Suárez Navarro (ESP) vs. L. Tsurenko (UKR)
Qualifier vs. A. Kontaveit (EST)
K. Siniakova (CZE) vs.  K. Mladenovic (FRA)
 P. Kvitova (CZE) vs. S. Peng (CHN)
Qualifier vs. M. Barthel (GER)
Qualifier vs. B. Strycova (CZE)
 J. Ostapenko (LAT) – Bye
 K. Pliskova (CZE) – Bye
S. Zhang (CHN) vs. D. Vekic (CRO)
[WC] Y. Wang (CHN) vs. S. Cirstea (ROU)
Q. Wang (CHN) vs.  S. Stephens (USA)
 A. Radwanska (POL) vs. M. Rybarikova (SVK)
D. Gavrilova (AUS) vs. J. Goerges (GER)
C. Bellis (USA) vs. A. Barty (AUS)
 J. Konta (GBR) – Bye
 S. Kuznetsova (RUS) – Bye
A. Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) vs. A. Cornet (FRA)
K. Bertens (NED) vs. Qualifier
Qualifier vs.  M. Keys (USA)
 E. Vesnina (RUS) vs. [WC] Y. Duan (CHN)
E. Mertens (BEL) vs. N. Osaka (JPN)
Qualifier vs. Y. Putintseva (KAZ)
 C. Wozniacki (DEN) – Bye
 D. Cibulkova (SVK) – Bye
S. Stosur (AUS) vs. [WC] J. Teichmann (SUI)
Qualifier vs. R. Vinci (ITA)
C. Garcia (FRA) vs.  A. Kerber (GER)
 A. Sevastova (LAT) vs. E. Makarova (RUS)
Qualifier vs. L. Davis (USA)
D. Kasatkina (RUS) vs. A. Riske (USA)
 S. Halep (ROU) – Bye