By Michael Kahn
PRAGUE, Sept 20 : Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will set aside their long-time rivalry when they play for Europe against the rest of the world in the inaugural Laver Cup tournament which starts on Friday.
Team Europe, featuring the world’s top two players, are overwhelming favourites to win the three-day tournament, which is named after Australian great Rod Laver, with a squad boasting a combined 36 grand slam titles against one for Team World.
The teams are captained by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, whose own rivalry starting in the 1970s featured a contrast in temperament and style that made their matches the kind of must-watch events that Laver Cup organisers hope to showcase.
“I’ve been watching these guys play for so many years, it’s going to be a fun weekend,” Borg, now 61, told reporters on Wednesday. “But make no mistake, we are here to win.” Conceived by Federer and his sports management company Team8, the tournament is the latest to join a crowded calendar and comes on the heels of the Davis Cup semi-finals last week.
World number two Federer played down the impact of another event, saying matches over a short period were manageable and gave players on the two teams the chance to build camaraderie.
“I don’t think it’s too much otherwise all the players wouldn’t be here,” the Swiss great told a news conference.
“The best (players) in the world are very picky in what (tournaments) they play, which (is why it) is great they made this a priority.” “(We’re) looking forward to making friendships because we play together and not against each other for a change.” EUROPE FAVOURED
Team Europe also includes German Alexander Zverev, Croatia’s Marin Cilic, Austrian Dominic Thiem and Czech Tomas Berdych.
Team World features Americans Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, John Isner and Frances Tiafoe plus Australia’s Nick Krygios and Canadian Denis Shapovalov.
With five players inside the world’s top 10, the Borg-led European squad is heavily favoured against a world team hit by Argentine Juan Martin del Potro’s late withdrawal due to injury.
“I’m expecting a lot of fun but at the same time I know it’s going to be very competitive,” the 22-year-old Krygios told reporters. “We are the underdogs.” The tournament, which will rotate between Europe and the rest of the world each year, features three singles and one doubles match each day. A win is worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday.
In a bid to keep the pace humming, the indoor hard court matches at Prague’s O2 Arena will be best-of-three sets with a 10-point tiebreak deciding the final set.
With no player featuring in singles more than twice during the first two days, Nadal and Federer could see themselves on the same side of the net in a mouthwatering doubles pairing.
“We don’t even know if captain Borg is going to pick us but, of course, I would love to play with Rafa and see that forehand do damage on the other side (of the net),” Federer said.
“I’m sure that the crowd would go absolutely crazy and just because of that it would just be great to play us potentially.”