WASHINGTON, September 19, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
With the start of the 2019 Laver Cup less than 48 hours away at the Palexpo in Geneva, there’s every reason to think that with home advantage and a talented line-up from top to bottom, Team Europe is the established pre-event favorite – and rightfully so.
After all, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have won a combined 39 Grand Slam singles titles, and the remainder of the team – Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Fabio Fognini – all are currently ranked in the Top 11 in the world.
“We have incredible depth,” said Federer during a pre-Laver Cup media gathering on Wednesday. “The problem is we’re playing indoors, best of three, super tiebreaker in the third, and we’re playing against big servers who like the indoors and all have a big forehand.
“So there you have it. As much as we’re the favorites, I do think it’s going to be extremely tight.”
Team Europe captain Björn Borg, who is entering his third Laver Cup, was asked if his job gets any easier for him.
“No, actually getting more and more difficult,” he said. “You’re feeling more and more pressure every year. I think especially because we have been doing really well the first two years, so we are the defending champion.
“This year, we have a very good team, very strong team. It’s the same with Team World. They have a good team, too.
“But, it’s going to come down, as previous years, to I think it’s going to be close matches, great tennis. We’re going to try our best to defend that title. It’s a lot of prestige. I mean, the players, they don’t want to lose. They want to win.
“You know, you can see both teams cheering for the players on the court. So, it’s going to be a fantastic weekend.”
Borg’s counterpart, Team World team captain John McEnroe, is excited. “I think the format suits our guys. We are obviously big underdogs, but we have been close, very close,” he said.
“So, we feel confident that we can pull off an upset. … Of course, we know that obviously a couple breaks could hopefully go our way.
“When you have four matches, you have match point and lose all of them, that’s rough, especially when you’re playing guys this good. So, hopefully, we will take advantage of those chances.”
The two team captains – the stoic Borg and the outgoing McEnroe – represent a contrast in coaching styles that’s a throwback to their respective personalities when each was a Grand Slam champion during their playing days. Both were asked if it gets any easier since it’s the third straight year for each to captain their teams.
“Well, I think that it seems pretty easier for him since he’s won both,” said McEnroe. “So I’m on the hot seat, I would think. So definitely feel some pressure, but it’s good pressure.”
Borg countered, “That’s very true. That’s why I’m a little bit different to John, for instance. He’s more showing the emotion more than I do. I’m very quiet.
“But deep inside, of course I’m nervous. It’s normal. But I don’t show it. But I’m very nervous, because I care a lot and I want to win. I want the players to win. I want the team to win. If you see I don’t show anything, but still inside I’m nervous.”
— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 18, 2019
No. 20 John Isner of the United States is the highest-ranked player for Team World. His teammates include fellow Americans Taylor Fritz and Jack Sock, Canadians Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov and Nick Kyrgios from Australia. For one, Isner looks forward to the camaraderie of being part of a team – even if his team is the underdog. “They’ve probably assembled the greatest tennis team of all time,” he said.
However, Isner believes there’s more to the Laver Cup than being on the winning or losing team. “It’s what we enjoy about it, because we are trying to beat each other 95% of the time during the course of the year.
“This event is much different. All of us get along. We really do. I’m not just saying that. We are very good friends and we have a lot of fun with this. It’s just so much fun to compete in this environment.”
Federer put the Laver Cup competition into perspective when he said, “I’m very proud to be playing in Switzerland, very proud to represent Team Europe here at the Laver Cup, and also having played maybe a little part in bringing it to Geneva.
“It’s definitely going to be one of those weeks I will forever remember. I have played in some incredible matches, arenas, places, but I think this is going to be going down for me as a very emotional, cool weekend.”