The Laver Cup had made its debut in September 2017. The tournament, a tennis equivalent of the Ryder Cup and named after the great Rod Laver was a contest between Team Europe, captained by Bjorn Borg and team World captained by John McEnroe. Once Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal signed up, interest in the tournament was pretty high. The inaugural edition was won by team Europe.
In contrast to the exuberance of 2017, somehow Laver Cup 2018 did not have that much interest and following. Was it due to Rafa Nadal opting out due to recuperation needs? Was it due to surfeit of tennis? Was it due to fans not accepting the format which instead of a deciding third setter had a tiebreak shootout if both teams were at a set a-piece? However to the relief of organisers, interest picked up as the tournament progressed.
Let’s have an in-depth look at the 2018 tournament
Since the inaugural edition was hosted in Europe, the 2018 event was hosted by team World in the windy city, Chicago, USA.
As in 2017, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe were captains in 2018 too. This of course had been pre-decided as it had been stated that they would be captains for the 1st three editions. Novak Djokovic joining team Europe strengthened it, with the full team being Roger, Novak, Sascha Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Kyle Edmund. Team World was unlucky that in form player and US Open finalist DelPo opted out at last moment just like last year. The final composition of Team World was Kevin Anderson, John Isner, Diego Schwartzman, Jack Sock, Nick Kyrgios and Frances Tiafoe.
If we compare from last year, the changes in team Europe were Dimitrov, Goffin and Edmund in for Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych. For team World, Denis Shapovalov and Sam Querrey were replaced by Kevin Anderson and Diego Schwartzman.
In 2017 the points format had ensured that interest remains till the very last match in which Roger Federer defeated Kyrgios to ensure Europe wins the inaugural Laver Cup. That is due to a cleverly designed points format whereby though 4 matches are played every day 1 matches have 1 point each, day 2 matches have 2 points each and day 3 matches have 3 points each. Technically even if a team wins all 8 matches in 1st 2 days then too it will have 12 points and the 3rd day match remains relevant. The format having a deciding tie-breaker instead of a deciding third set increases the odds of an “upset”. Points format being such, it was expected that in 2018 too interest will remain till the end.
Day 1 saw team Europe wins all their three singles but then team World wrested the doubles. The singles wins were by Dimitrov, Edmund and Goffin who won against Tiafoe, Sock and Schwartzmann respectively. Dimitrov had an easy straight sets win but Edmund and Goffin won tight tie-breaks against their opponents. Then came the match all had been looking for, Roger and Novak playing doubles together for the first time in their careers just like Roger and Rafa had played together for the first time last year. However while Roger and Rafa had won last year, this year Roger and Novak lost to Anderson and Sock, with the team World duo winning the tie-break at 10-6. Day one ended with team Europe leading 3-1 on points.
Day 2 started with Sascha winning a tough match against Isner and Federer winning easily against Nick. At that point of time team Europe was leading 7-1 and was comfortable since they had a Novak match after that. However Kevin put up a terrific performance to defeat the reigning Wimbledon and US Open Champion 10-6 in the tie-break. Thereafter Kyrgios and Sock combined perfectly to win easily in straight sets against Dimitrov and Goffin. Day 2 ended with team Europe leading 7-5.
An aside was that in the Roger-Nick match, captain John Mcenroe and Nick combined to grill the umpire for quite some time after a call went Roger’s way. It was Mcenroe of old, asking questions after questions, with some questions fired even before a reply to a question had come. The volatile Nick also joined the party as well. Ultimately however the players got back to tennis. Interestingly, this tournament has the special feature of allowing “coaching” while matches are on, which makes the role of captains Borg and Mcenroe even more important.
Day 3 had the intriguing spectacle of Bjorn Borg opting to make Roger Federer play back to back matches, a doubles followed by a singles match. While it may seem strange, with a bit of a second look, it actually makes sense to play back to back matches rather than playing, cooling down and then warming up again. The first match was doubles with Roger and Sascha taking on Isner and Sock, and then there would be back to back matches with Roger and Isner fighting it out in singles. There was speculation that if Roger won both the matches he was featured in, then the last two matches would be redundant.
However, in a stunning performance team World took the doubles for world to take an 8-7 lead. Isner and Roger then played breathtaking power tennis and it was Isner who had 2 match points, once on Roger’s serve and then on his as well. Roger’s experience saw him through the scare and then in the tie-breaker it was Roger who prevailed, mainly due to his experience. Europe were back on top at 10-8.
Now equations were simple. Europe needed to win one of the remaining two matches, and Sascha lifted himself up to shut Kevin out making the last match between Novak and Kyrgios redundant. Europe by reaching 13 points had retained the Laver Cup.
What next for the tournament? It is already big, and the challenge will be how to sustain it. For the next couple of years with the big 3 around, it should not be a problem but then it will require a fresh bit of energy and adrenalin. As regards the coaches/captains, there should be no problem with greats like Sampras, Courier, Becker, Edberg and more waiting. Who knows, in future we may see Federer and Rafa as captain of team Europe and that itself will give the tournament an impetus. With exciting players like Coric, De Minaur, Chung, Denis, Tiafoe and more coming up, that too should help.
As of now it seems that Laver Cup is here to stay.
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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