As the rich and famous descended upon London for Her Majesty’s funeral, the tennis world has digested the announcement of the retirement of its own King, Roger Federer, who revealed his first professional event since his 2021 Wimbledon quarter-final would also be his last with Federer closing his astonishing career at the O2 Arena in London on Friday night.
Federer confirmed in his Laver Cup press conference on Wednesday morning that he will play doubles on Friday and retire immediately thereafter with Team Europe alternate, Matteo Berrettini to take Federer’s spot for the Saturday singles.
Federer has hinted that his preference would be to play his final match alongside long-time rival Rafael Nadal, however the Swiss Maestro stopped short of guaranteeing the pair would grace the court together for his farewell.
Joining Federer on Team Europe (who are captained by Bjorn Borg) is world number two Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the remainder of the Big 4 in Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Sir Andy Murray with Matteo Berrettini also joining as an alternate for the week. One could argue this is the greatest sporting team ever assembled – at least on paper.
Opposing Team Europe and representing John McEnroe’s Team World is Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Diego Schwartzman, Alex De Minaur, Jack Sock, and Tommy Paul as the alternate.
The Laver Cup in London this weekend is the fifth instalment of the event and, so far, it’s been all Team Europe who has won each of the previous four encounters.
Created as a tribute to Australian icon Rod Laver by a joint venture between Team8 (Federer’s management group), Tennis Australia, the USTA, and Jorge Paulo Lemann (a Brazilian billionaire investment banker with Swiss citizenship) the Laver Cup is held in a different city each year and is run over three days with five sessions and 12 rubbers with the winning team requiring 13 points to win the Laver Cup.
There are three singles rubbers and one doubles rubber each day.
Rubbers on day one are worth one point, rubbers on day two are worth two points and rubbers on day three are worth three points. The event’s design is such that there will always be at least one live rubber on day three.
While Team World do indeed face a significant challenge to compete with Team Europe’s star power their team is not without a chance.
Team World’s Jack Sock is the Laver Cup record holder for points earned and, in this writer's opinion, is one of the best half-court players on earth. Frances Tiafoe has just come off a career run at the US Open. Taylor Fritz, who did lose in the first round at the US Open, is up to 12 in the world. Felix Auger-Aliassime found form and defeated world number 1, Carlos Alcaraz, in Davis Cup last week while Alex De Minaur recently won the Atalanta Open and is enjoying a big second half of the year. Diego Schwartzman is also highly motivated to earn his first Laver Cup win after an unsuccessful debut in Boston last year.
“It’s a big opportunity for us to see these guys one more time all together. Like super heroes in a movie all together,” he said to Laver Cup media recently.
“We have a very strong team. This year we have a big opportunity.”
Equally, although on paper, Team Europe possess a team capable of (team) world domination, their armoury is not without its chinks.
Nadal is not 100% fit and after his fourth-round US Open loss to Team World rival, Frances Tiafoe, he spoke of possibly missing this event to recover from his ongoing foot issue – although one suspects once Roger called and informed his Spanish friend of his retirement that any chance of Nadal missing the event quickly ended.
Stefanos Tsitsipas lost the first round of the US Open and was down 6-0, 5-0 to unheralded Colombian Daniel Galàn. Djokovic hasn’t played since Wimbledon and Sir Andy Murray isn’t what he was (although you wouldn’t necessarily bet against him with a home crowd).
Casper Ruud, however, rarely looks like the second-best player on court nowadays.
The Norwegian spoke to the Laver Cup media following his announcement and expressed his excitement about playing alongside the Big 4 in this year’s edition of the Laver Cup.
“I was playing the first match of the whole Laver Cup against Opelka (in 2021),” recalls Ruud.
“It was the first time they showed Roger on the big screen in TD Garden in Boston, and the whole crowd erupted like I never heard before, so I can only imagine what it will be like when he’s on the team and when he will enter the court.
“It’s going to be so special this year, having the biggest four tennis players in my childhood,” he said.
“It’s going to be an honour. Probably going to be a bit nervous when I’m out there playing in front of them, but I’ll do my best and I’m very happy to be able to represent Europe for this year’s Laver Cup in front of a crowd full of cheerful fans, and a European bench of legends.”
In a similar vein, upon his announcement in joining Team World, Australian Alex De Minaur, who so often saves his best tennis for the team formats, highlighted that the enormity of this year’s event was not lost on him.
“It’s an amazing opportunity; it’s a place where I wanted to be.
“Competing against the best in Team Europe, I’m extremely pumped to be part of the team and play under Captain John McEnroe.
“We’ve got all the greats on the other side of the court, it’s going to be incredibly tough for us, but at the same time, we’re ready for the challenge.
“It’s going to be extremely fun in a different format as well. It will get the juices flowing, playing in a team environment which I love, and getting around my teammates. I’ll be ready to go, ready to get fired up.”
Nonetheless, while Team World are eager to earn their first trophy, they’ll have scars to overcome after a thrashing in 2021 and some (extraordinarily) close calls in prior years.
The 2021 edition saw Team Europe earn a dominant 14-1 win in Boston with John Isner (who withdrew from this year’s event following a fractured wrist sustained at the US Open) and Denis Shapovalov earning Team World’s sole point in the doubles on day 1.
In Geneva in 2019, Team Europe’s Sascha Zverev defeated Milos Raonic in a third-set tiebreaker in the final rubber of day three to bring glory to Team Europe.
Zverev was also the hero in 2018 defeating Kevin Anderson in the penultimate rubber while Federer brought home the first ever Laver Cup for Team Europe in 2017 against a fired-up Nick Kyrgios 11-9 in the third set tiebreaker in the final rubber of the inaugural event.