Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych join forces in Prague to launch first Laver Cup

The tennis banquet being offered up in Prague will feature among its line-up Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych, and captains Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

It is little wonder that a new event on the scale of the Laver Cup will take not a little preparation. For the tennis banquet being offered up this September in Prague will feature among its line-up Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych, and captains Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

The concept of this special tournament, to celebrate tennis icon Rod Laver, was hatched at the Australian Open last year by Federer and his agent Tony Godsick. By September, all the ingredients were in place at a remarkable coming together of tennis royalty after the US Open in New York: Federer, Nadal, Borg and McEnroe were joined by none other than Laver himself to confirm the event, its format, its launch venue, and its vision for the future.

And today, Federer joined Berdych in the Czech star’s home capital to announce the ticket launch later this week.

Both men have been otherwise engaged in recent weeks, not least in facing one another across the net in Rod Laver arena in the third round of the Australian Open. As Berdych said, rather ruefully, after his three-set loss: “I almost want to say it was the best I’ve seen [Roger] play.”

Some compliment from a man who has played the Swiss 23 times dating back to their first match—a win for Berdych—at the Athens Olympics.

Yet judging from today’s publicity event—beginning with mini tennis on a boat beneath Prague’s famous Charles Bridge, followed by a media jamboree in the old town—the two get along just fine.

Berdych admitted: “It is always just a privilege to be on any court with Roger… I know from experience how tough he is as an opponent, and personally will make it a mission to qualify for Laver Cup so we can be on the same team. I can only imagine how much fun it would be to compete on the same team as he and Rafa.”

Berdych, since that Melbourne defeat, has been in Rotterdam, where he reached the semi-finals. But Federer, who went on to win his 18th Major in Australia, has been chilling away from the courts with family and friends in the Swiss mountains. And at every turn, he has continued to embrace the Norman Brookes Challenge Trophy with a beam on his face. He has, he said with a grin in Prague, taken to calling it simply, ‘Norman’.

The trophy was nowhere to be seen in the Periscoped Prague activities, though both men were still wrapped up against the seven-degree temperatures and a brisk wind. But back on dry land, they were in their best bib and tuckers for the formal ticket launch, and Federer was quick to assure fans that the tournament would played with real competitive vim.

“The idea is to have tough matches: the better man wins. It has maybe no [ranking] points, but that is not how Rod Laver sees it. He wants us to represent our part of the world with pride, and support our team mates.”

Federer went on to rank Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras as his greatest idols when he was growing up, but he has never made any secret of his admiration for the man who achieved so much before Federer was born. The Swiss said in Manhattan last September:

“Rod Laver is someone I’ve always thought was very inspiring. I think it’s important to leave a legacy for the legends, and Rod to me stands out because of his achievements and his character… He represents everything that is great about the sport of tennis, and it’s a privilege to be able to honour his achievements through the Laver Cup.”

The modest Laver won 11 singles Majors along with many more in doubles, and would have had a lot more had the tennis tour not split into professional and amateur branches during the 1960s when the Australian was at his peak. He won his first calendar Grand Slam in 1962, then completed a second after tennis finally went ‘Open’ in 1969, and in between, he won eight Pro Majors from 14 finals, along with five Davis Cups in a span of 15 years.

But the Laver Cup brings something special to the table for all those involved: The chance, Federer pointed out, to play with his oldest and greatest rival Nadal rather than against him, and to admire Berdych’s forehand from the same side of the net rather than on the receiving end.

So how are the possible contenders viewing this new addition to an already packed calendar, one that falls a fortnight after the US Open and a week after the Davis Cup semi-finals?

Federer: “There is a buzz among other players. A lot are very curious. The kick-off here gives everyone a clear idea it’s really happening… I hope everyone is going to fight for their ranking to qualify for the Laver Cup.

“I think team Europe is going to be the favourite, but I think the margins are always going to be very slim… Playing indoors on a medium court, and the scoring system, will keep it interesting until the last match. I think we have more depth in Team Europe and of course I hope team Europe wins the very first one!”

The teams

· Each team comprises six players, led by a team captain who is a legend of the sport.

· Four of the six players will qualify on ATP singles ranking as of the Monday following Wimbledon. Two “captains’ picks” will be announced by the Monday after the US Open.

The format

· The event will be played over three days. On Friday and Saturday, there will be a day and night session followed by a final single day session on Sunday.

· Four matches are played each day, three singles and a doubles.

· Both singles and doubles will be best of three sets. In the event of split sets, the third set will be a 10-point tie break.

· Each man will play at least one singles match during the three days, but no-one will play singles more than twice during the three days.

· At least four of the six players must play doubles.

· Match-ups will be determined prior to the first match each day through the blind exchange of line-up cards by the captains.

· Each match win will be worth one point on Friday, two points on Saturday, and three points on Sunday. The first team to reach 13 points out of the total 24 available will win the Laver Cup. If the points are tied at 12-12 at the end of all matches, a fifth match on Sunday will be played to determine the winner.

More essentials

· Federer and Nadal are committed to compete for Europe this year.

· Borg will captain Europe and McEnroe will lead Rest of the World for the first three years of the competition.

· The event will always be played on one competition hard court in a retractable roof stadium or indoor arena.

Location, dates and tickets

22-24 September, the O2 Arena Prague. The location will alternate between Europe and the rest of the world each year, but will not be played during Olympic years.
Tickets go on sale on Friday 24 February at 10am CET: https://lavercup.com/tickets

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