The Federer Laver Cup, "It's the future of tennis"

Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and John McEnroe, during the teams presentation, in Geneva, on September 18th.
Dominic Thiem, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Rod Laver and John McEnroe, during the teams presentation, in Geneva, on September 18th. DENIS BALIBOUSE / REUTERS

For a week on the shores of Lake Geneva, bromance is skillfully staged. " I'm happy when he wins, and it's the same for him when it's my case, Roger Federer told the Swiss press these days. Rafael Nadal returned the courtesy during the official gala, Thursday, September 19: "My rival, probably my biggest rival, he's unique …" What does it matter if the friendship is real or feigned, the public asks for more. And swoon as soon as the two men appear side by side, whether training on the same side of the net or in tie suits on the red carpet.

The Swiss and Spanish are the gondola heads of the Laver Cup, which takes place from 20 to 22 September at the Palais des Congrès in Geneva. A skewer of casual players and ex-players, a pompous conclave, and, as emcee, Roger Federer. The idea comes from Tony Godsick, the Swiss agent, who conceived it as a tribute to the legends of the past, Rod Laver first, hence his name. As a golf lover, Godsick takes on his "plagiarism": a team competition modeled on the Ryder Cup. The best European players challenge not only Americans but "the rest of the world".

This year, "third world" would probably have been more appropriate as on paper, the imbalance does not escape anyone. On the one hand, Rafael Nadal (No. 2 worldwide), Roger Federer (No. 3), Dominic Thiem (No. 5), Alexander Zverev (No. 6), Stefanos Tsitsipas (No. 7) and Fabio Fognini (No. 11). And a substitute, Roberto Bautista Agut (No. 10), ranked higher than the number one team World, in this case John Isner, 20e. At his side, Milos Raonic (No. 24), Nick Kyrgios (No. 27), Taylor Fritz (No. 30), Denis Shapovalov (No. 33) and Jack Sock (No. 210). Their 7e man? Jordan Thompson, 53e.

Kyrgios Chief of Pack

Thirty-nine Grand Slams on one side, zero on the other … The sporting stakes are a priori almost nil. Beside the very chic and very simple team Europe, Team World is a band of teenagers a bit immature, led by the Australian Nick Kyrgios. "I hope I can surprise everyone and win a simple," said Thursday Jack Sock, taulier double the team. General hair on the platform. Kyrgios seems the only one to believe in their chances. "Rankings are the most overrated thing. Personally I have no fear. In front, I have already beaten them all. " In the terrible child of Australian tennis, enthusiasm is not feigned: the Laver Cup packs more than Roland Garros.

Thanks to the support of shining sponsors, and American and Australian federations, the decor is licked even labeled. Large sofas instead of traditional benches devolved to captains. Immaculate lines. A short anthracite cement on a black background, a room plunged into darkness. Black is black but there is hope, to believe the spectators came Thursday to attend the training of the stars. "I've been here before to see Fed Cup and Davis Cup matches, but it was less expensive, it's great," judge Alain Berthiaud, Genevois 65 years old. At his side, his friend Bernard Roche opine. "They put the means. The future of tennis, that's it, decrees the retiree, invited by the watch sponsor of Switzerland. Bring together such a plateau … It's the death of the Davis Cup. "

Immaculate lines, an anthracite cement court on a black background, a room plunged into darkness: the decor of the Laver Cup is labeled.
Immaculate lines, an anthracite cement court on a black background, a room plunged into darkness: the decor of the Laver Cup is labeled. Martial Trezzini / AP

The first two editions, in Prague in 2017 and in Chicago last year, were sold out (83,000 spectators in Prague, 90,000 in Chicago). This is also the case in Geneva. Above all, the event can boast of attracting the best when the Davis Cup was snubbed for years by the gratin of the circuit. And not sure that the trendy facelift Pique (Kosmos company of the Spanish player now organizes the Davis Cup) to rejuvenate the event centenaire changes much.

Read also Davis Cup: requiem for a salad bowl

The new formula out of the hat by the Barça defender? "She has no interest," Judge Alexis Berthiaud, 26, came to the Geneva Tennis Club next door. On the contrary according to him of the Laver Cup. " It is a whole. The format (read below) is much more interesting and attractive, the presence of the old players also plays. And above all, we can see atypical associations, like the double Federer-Zverev (this Friday) that we would never have seen on the circuit. "

Some still see it as a playground for billionaires. Entry fees are kept secret from the beginning, and the check promised to each player on the winning team too (he whispers that he is around $ 250,000 per player). Above all, his critics accuse the Swiss and his team of unfair competition: the competition takes place the same week as the tournaments of Metz and St. Petersburg. Skeptics, "That's what I tell them," retorts Alexis Berthiaud, pointing to a tweener (shot between the legs) Federer caught under his eyes in training.

Quest for legitimacy

The Swiss dream to see his event become sustainable to acquire historical legitimacy. "I wish that in fifty years, all the greatest players went through the Laver Cup", he hoped at its creation in 2017.

The Laver Cup has now integrated the ATP calendar, even if it does not distribute (still?) Points. The test refuses from the beginning to be reduced to an exhibition. And can count on his two captains, Björn Borg, and John McEnroe, to recycle the elements of language. "It has never been an exhibition. There is so much prestige, it's serious, nobody wants to lose. Some players were shot after defeats, the proof is Swedish. Gather the best on the same board is the best thing that could happen to tennis. That's it, it's the future of tennis. "

Even the usual tame McEnroe lends itself to the game. "I do not know if it's the future, but it should be part of it, yes. This is the kind of event that is beneficial for the game. Players become aware of a sense of camaraderie that is not found on the circuit. That does not mean that these ingredients are absent in other events like the Davis Cup but it is a given that the tennis of tomorrow should better take into account. "

What will happen once Federer and Nadal retired? All the spectators interviewed are optimistic about the durability of the event. "There will always be good players and good show. And then Federer will continue to hatch, " presumes Teddy Rizzo, 26, from Annecy. And it's a safe bet that in a few years, if the event survived them, the two friends will not be prayed to replay their rivalry from the couch.

The Laver Cup, instructions for use

  • Organized for three days, this team competition brings six players from Europe to six other players representing the "rest of the world".
  • The format is as follows: three singles and one double per day, winning two-set matches and a super ten-point tie-break by way of 3e set. A win earns a point on the first day, two points on the second day and three points on the last day. The first team to win 13 points, out of 24 possible, is declared the winner. The Europe team won the first two editions.


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