WASHINGTON, September 23, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
The third edition of the Laver Cup brought together two of the greatest tennis players of all time for the weekend in Geneva – Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – who helped Team Europe lift its third consecutive trophy with a come-from-behind 13-11 victory over Team World. Together, they basked in the confetti and celebrations that accompanied winning this prestigious, innovative, and entertaining team event.
The Laver Cup not only allowed fans, both inside the electric Palexpo arena as well as those watching on television around the globe, a unique opportunity to see Federer and Nadal compete together. It also gave us a keen glimpse of each offering advice and coaching to the other as well as sharing their insights and perspective with their fellow Team Europe teammates.
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 22, 2019
With 39 Grand Slam titles between them, one would think that Federer or Nadal wouldn’t need or want any outside advice on how to play against their respective opponents. Quite the contrary, and the quiet and reflective Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg often stepped aside during changeovers to let his charges do much of the verbalizing.
For one, Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who won Sunday night’s decisive last match over Milos Raonic of Canada, 6-4, 3-6, 10-4, which came down to a winner-take-all match tiebreak, gave props to both Federer and Nadal during Team Europe’s final press conference.
“Rafa and Roger helped me a lot before the tiebreak and going into our locker room where we had a little bit of a break, and they gave me a lot of nice words, a lot of positivity. And how they were on the bench was an unbelievable feeling for me to win in the end,” he said.
Borg called his team’s sprit “unbelievable” throughout the Laver Cup. “We are very close together, and the team understand what to do and not to do. So, I think that’s one of the reasons why we were able to win for the third time.”
Nadal called his Laver Cup experience unique and special. He was totally invested in it from start to finish. “I think it’s something very positive, something new, something that is fresh for our sport,” he said.
On Saturday, Nadal could be spotted offering Federer a lot of encouragement during his afternoon battle against Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, which the Swiss maestro won, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 10-7. That evening, Federer returned the favor when Nadal beat Raonic, 6-3, 7-6 (1). Both Nadal and Federer reveled in the team camaraderie throughout the three days of competition.
“Well, I think everybody helps each other … all the the players helps in some ways, no?” asked Nadal Saturday night after his win.
“Of course, with Roger, we have a good relationship. I think we know each other very well, so all the matches that we played against each other, we know the things that we can do or not.
“So, at some point, we can have an idea about the things that can help to change the dynamic of the match if it’s not going the right way. So, for me, it’s great to have him telling me things, because sometimes him, Bjorn, Thomas (Enqvist), any player, because honestly, things from outside sometimes are more clear than from inside. It’s good to be around a great team, and I am enjoying.”
Like Nadal, Federer showed a lot of passion in advising and coaching his teammates throughout the Laver Cup. On Sunday, television cameras caught him giving a pep talk to Austria’s Dominic Thiem by speaking in their native German tongue.
“I think it ended up being one of the secrets of the Laver Cup,” said Federer. “It’s also maybe why fans tune in to see and hear what we have to say. We don’t do it for that reason that they get that insight. It just happened to be that way.
“If you ask anybody on our team, we can’t control ourselves not saying anything and then live with regret. So, we have to go out, say it, and if it doesn’t work, so be it. If it does, we feel a little better.
“So yes, I actually enjoy it. And also because we go up and talk to the player, we always discuss it internally, like, all the time, with Thomas and Sascha and Dominic, you name it, everybody on the team, whoever is sitting next to you about how we should say it, what we could say and what would help and what not.”
On the other side, Team World’s Kyrgios could be seen interacting with his team captain, John McEnroe, as well as with his teammates that was both intriguing and fun to watch. He became American Taylor Fritz’s biggest supporter after he was removed from the lineup because of a shoulder injury and could be seen standing behind his teammate during many changeovers. After losing to Federer on Saturday, Kyrgios was asked about receiving and giving input with other players.
“I think it’s more fun for me, you know, to, I mean see Jordan (Thompson) on the bench, a guy I have grown up with, I have know since I was eight, and then be sitting next to someone that I can relate to and I feel understands me in John,” said Kyrgios. “He knows the game so well, and then to see my buddies on the bench and guys I’m playing for, you know, representing the World.
“So, I don’t think there is much more you can play for. I feel like this is the ultimate event. You’re playing for Europe and playing for the rest of the World. I’m just out there trying to do what’s best for my team. If that’s me watching them play, standing out there for practice, I’m going to do whatever they need.
“If my best bet is to go up against Federer every time, then I will do that and I will try my best to win, and I will do everything I absolutely can.”
During his post-match press conference Saturday night, Nadal was asked how much he’s enjoyed seeing a different side of tennis and contributing toward it. The Spaniard said: “I like this sport in general, so I like to play, and I like to support from outside. People who follow sport knows that I normally, when I do the things, I try to do it with the highest intensity possible.
“So, if I’m here, I’m not here just to play tennis. I’m here to help the team in all the ways.
“During the matches, a lot of things happen, and you go there, you feel excited to go there. And to tell what you see from outside, you believe you can help. … But with everybody from the team, we do what we feel in that moment is best for the team. And we do with our heart.”
Finally, Stefanos Tsitsipas, the youngest member of Team Europe at age 21, got to experience playing doubles with both Federer, 38, and Nadal, 33, and to interact with both of them on the court. The Greek star offered this unique insight: “I got to play with Rafa and Roger in less than 16 hours, which is unbelievable. It gave me the opportunity to see from their perspective when they’re on court and that’s what makes them the greatest ever. Their determination, concentration, skill. They are 100 percent in charge.”