The Brotherhood of the (Two) Traveling Lederhosen

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Winning the ATP Tour event in Munich is good.

Getting a sweet ride – a BMW i8 roadster – is even better.

The only condition is … you’ve got to put on the lederhosen.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev knows the drill.

With a 6-3, 6-3 victory over two-time champion Philipp Kohlschreiber Sunday, he repeated as champion.

That means two vehicles – and another pair of lederhosen.

(FYI – the retail price of the car starts at … $163,300 US. You can add a $2,500 brake package and $6,300 laser headlights. At that point, might as well, right?)

Zverev lost the first set he played on the week, to countryman Yannick Hanfmann. But he wasn’t troubled the rest of the way. His four victories included an impressive 7-5, 6-2 dispatching of fellow youngster Hyeon Chung of Korea.

This time, the white one

lederhosen

It’s pretty much a first-world problem to already have one major sports car, so the biggest concern is not getting another one in the same colour.

Seriously, isn’t that annoying?

A year ago, the merchant of speed was black.

Fashion-forward in München

If you thought they just stored away the lederhosen for a year until the next edition of the tournament, think again.

Zverev now boasts two pairs, similar, but not identical.

lederhosen

The best part is how the winner did the quick-change right on the court before thousands of fans, and tournament director Patrick Kuhnen peeking over the makeshift change room.

lederhosen
(The on-court change room is a concept that has GOT to find more uses. It might save a lot of time on those endless bathroom breaks, allegedly for ‘change of attire’,and stop us from questioning the TRUE MOTIVES!)

The new tradition of the lederhosen began in 2015, when Andy Murray (who’d probably fancy a kilt, to be honest) needed three hours to defeat Kohlschreiber 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4) to win his first career clay-court title at age 27.

It was also the first clay-court title by a Brit in nearly 40 years. So it was certainly worth a pair of lederhosen.

He doesn’t look embarrassed in the least. Then again, he has posed in this

lederhosen
Andy Murray won it in 2015, inaugurating the very German tradition.

Kohlschreiber, who kind of looks a wee bit sheepish most of the time (that’s just his face), didn’t look sheepish at all when he posed for his trophy shot.

In fact, he looked very at home. He really could model in a lederhosen catalogue.

lederhosen
Philipp Kohlschreiber was spared the change of attire when he won it in 2012. But in 2015, when he repeated as champion, he was probably happy to put them on.

The legend of the lederhosen probably guarantees that Rafael Nadal will never play Munich.

NO chance he gets into those without splitting the seams .

Duelling lederhosen

But hmmmmm … Hold the phone.

Now, we’ll grant you it’s a small sample size. But it appears there are two different pairs of lederhosen. So they must rotate them.

But it appears they are indeed recycled.

You have to think they dry-clean them in between, right?

Next year, we suggest the full look – with suspenders. They’re on sale, too.

lederhosen

 

Charity Day in Monte Carlo

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At first glance, it looks like Monte Carlo’s powerhouse men’s interclub team all went out en masse for a hit and giggle.

Novak Djokovic, the Zverev brothers, Marin Cilic, David Goffin, Grigor Dimitrov  were on hand – a powerhouse lineup. All went out and did their part for La Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco. The Monaco sovereign’s charity is devoted to the environment and sustainable development.

But there were some non-resident exceptions: Dominic Thiem (still a resident of Austria) and Lucas Pouille (Dubai) also took part.

(Some celebs most of us in North America have never heard of also participated).

Meanwhile, some pretty high-level qualifying matches were going on on the outside courts. Seppi vs de Minaur, Troicki vs Stakhovsky and Delbonis vs Mahut toiled as the stars took over the Court Central.

TennisTV streamed the charity event on Facebook:

 

As well, Djokovic went out and had a little hit with his son, Stefan.

Main draw begins Sunday

There is a 56-player singles draw and only a week to get it done. So matches in the Monte Carlo main draw will start on Sunday.

The final round of qualifying also is happening, including Nicolas Mahut vs. Jérémy Chardy. With that quality, sometimes it’s hard to tell the main draw from the qualifying.

Some matches to look out on Monday for involve a couple of wild cards.

Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis (22) will meet Russia’s Karen Khachanov (21) in a battle of young guns.

And 17-year-old Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime will play Mischa Zverev, 13 years older.

Spain to Davis Cup semis in dramatic finale

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The best thing about Davis Cup is that its rich history is so full of career-making moments.

It can be a relatively obscure bench player who does something spectacular, as Germany’s Tim Puetz did Saturday in the doubles tie against Spain.

Or it can be a player who’s had a fine career , but never ever quite had that moment to shine.

For David Ferrer, in his Valencia home, charged with winning a fifth and decisive rubber for the first time in his career, this was such a moment.

Ferrer, who turned 36 last week, was playing in his 24th career Davis Cup tie. And as sterling as his 27-5 record was, he had never carried the entire tennis nation on his shoulders.

Magic moment, at home, when it counts

But on Sunday, before a faithful home-city crowd, after the return of Rafael Nadal to the competition put the first two points up on the board but the French Open-champion pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez were shocked the day before, Ferrer seized the day.

Overmatched in his first match Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, Ferrer finally put away a valiant Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 Sunday in four hours and 51 minutes.

The victory puts Spain in the September World Group semifinals against France.

The moment put Ferrer in the pantheon of his country’s sporting heroes.

“Very emotional, this competition. I have my best emotions in my career. So I’m really happy,” Ferrer said during an on-court interview after the match. “It’s really difficult to describe the feeling in this moment. Difference was in the final set. I played better than him. I was very focused, and the first set (which Ferrer won) was the key. In the first set maybe he was better than me, and after that it was very very close.

“For me its a dream, playing at home, here in Valencia, have the support of al the people, my family, my team. We’re in the semifinals, so it’s one of the best days in my career, for sure,” he added.

The day began with Ferrer’s teammate Rafael Nadal taking world No. 4 Alexander Zverev to school in a clinical 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win. It evened the tie at 2-2 in the wake of Saturday’s doubles defeat, and gave Ferrer his opportunity to shine.

Tough conditions in the bullring

And it was a day that had everything. Rain. Cool temperatures. Blustery winds that blew the red clay into the eyeballs of players and fans alike. But as the big crowd approached its seventh hour in the Valencia bullring, not many had left.

Kohlschreiber was up 3-0 in the fourth set tiebreak. But he lost it. Ferrer was up a break in the fifth set. But Kohschreiber won three straight games to go ahead again. 

Germany had two break points at 3-4 to have an opportunity to serve for the tie. But two Kohlschreiber backhands – one topspin, one careful slice – flew over Ferrer’s baseline as the wind carried them a little too far.

At 5-5, 30-all, Kohlschreiber got an awkward bounce on the clay-deprived court, missed a forehand, and gave Ferrer an opportunity to break. 

And then, on an epic point that sums up Ferrer’s career and heart, he ran down at least three near-winners, one after another. After more than 4 1/2 hours on court, he made Kohlschreiber hit just one more ball.

It was a backhand volley, near the net. And Kohschreiber couldn’t make it.

After that, with Nadal still frantically cheering from the sidelines, Ferrer was able to close it out. He fell to the court in exhausted ecstasy.

Ultimate sportsmanship

dramatic
Before even celebrating with his teammates, Ferrer was over on the German side consoling opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber and his teammates.

And then, to no one’s surprise, after shaking the chair umpire’s hand and hugging his captain briefly, he immediately headed over to his vanquished opponent, as Kohlschreiber sat disconsolate on the German bench.

A consoling moment with him, hugs and handshakes for the German squad. And only then did he head over to get mobbed by his teammates.

“I feel so emotional because … the match the both played was unbelievable. Also very special for David, that we love, one of the greatest person on the circuit. I think he deserves a match like this one, Davis Cup, in front of this crowd,” captain Sergi Bruguera said in an on-court interview.

“Philipp, he played an unbelievable match, one of the best matches I ever saw him play. … All the match was an incredible level of tennis, incredible intensity, for five hours.”

Ferrer didn’t even want to think about France, about September, about anything but the moment.

For me it’s one of the best days of my life, and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “Maybe one glass of red wine.”

Davis Cup quarterfinal primer (Final results)

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You can tell the 2020 Summer Games are coming up sooner than we realize.

Because some of the big players are looking to get their Olympic criteria met by playing Davis Cup (and Fed Cup, in a few weeks).

One interesting thing that is going to come out of this weekend is that there is going to be a LOT of public comment about the proposed major changes ITF president Dave Haggerty floated in February.

Some of the intrigue in terms of nominations and lineups has gone, with the change to a five-man roster.

But the surprise after the draw ceremonies Thursday is that Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played since the Australian Open, is on tap to play No. 1 singles Friday in Valencia against Germany. That’s best-of-five, on clay.

Here are the details on the four World Group quarterfinals going on over the next three days.

[1] France 3, [8] Italy 1 (final)

Venue: Valletta Cambiaso ASD, Genoa, Italy
Surface: Clay – Red Clay, Outdoor
Ball: Dunlop Fort Clay Court

Nominations:

France: Lucas Pouille, Adrian Mannarino, Nicholas Mahut, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Jérémy Chardy.

Italy: Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi, Andreas Seppi, Matteo Berrettini, Simone Bolelli.

Missing: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon (FRA).

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Lucas Pouille (FRA) def #2 Andreas Seppi (ITA) 63 62 46 36 61
#1 Fabio Fognini (ITA) def. #2 Jérémy Chardy (FRA) 67 (6) 62 62 63

Saturday final results

Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut (FRA) def Simone Bolelli / Paolo Lorenzi Fabio Fognini (ITA) 64 63 61

Sunday final results

#1 Lucas Pouille (FRA) def #1 Fabio Fognini (ITA) 26 61 76 (3) 63
#2 Andreas Seppi (ITA) vs. #2 Jérémy Chardy (FRA) – not played

*********************************************

Spain 3, Germany 2 (complete)

Venue: Plaza de Toros de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Surface: Red Clay, Outdoor
Ball:Head Davis Cup

Nominations:

Spain: Rafael Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Marc Lopez

Germany: Alexander Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Jan-Lennard Struff, Maximilian Marterer, Tim Puetz

Missing: Albert Ramos-Viñolas, Pablo Carreño Busta (late scratch) (ESP). Mischa Zverev, Peter Gojowczyk (GER).

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Alexander Zverev (GER) def #2 David Ferrer (ESP) 64 62 62
#1 Rafael Nadal (ESP) def #2 Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 62 62 63

Saturday final results

Tim Puetz / Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) def Feliciano Lopez / Marc Lopez (ESP) 63 63 36 67 (4) 75 

Sunday results

#1 Rafael Nadal (ESP) def #1 Alexander Zverev (GER) 61 64 64
#2 David Ferrer (ESP) def #2 Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)  76 (1) 36 76 (4) 46 75

*********************************************

[4] Croatia 3, Kazakhstan 1 (final)

Venue: Varazdin Arena, Varazdin, Croatia
Surface: Clay – Red Clay, Indoor
Ball: Dunlop Fort Clay Court

Nominations:

Croatia: Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Viktor Galovic, Ivan Dodig, Nikola Mektic

Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Dmitry Popko, Denis Yevseyev, Timur Khabibulin

Missing: Ivo Karlovic (CRO)

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Marin Cilic (CRO) def. #2 Dmitry Popko (KAZ) 62 61 62
#1 Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) def #2 Borna Coric (CRO) 36 76 (5) 64 62

Saturday final results

Ivan Dodig / Nikola Mektic (CRO) def Aleksandr Nedovyesov / Timur Khabibulin (KAZ) 67 (2) 64 64 62

Sunday results

#1 Marin Cilic (CRO) def #1 Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) 61 61 61
#2 Borna Coric (CRO) vs. #2 Dmitry Popko (KAZ)

*********************************************

USA 4, [2] Belgium 0 (complete)

Venue: Curb Event Center, Nashville, USA
Surface: Hard – Premier, Indoor
Court Pace Rating: Medium
Ball: Wilson US Open Extra Duty

Nominations:

USA: John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison

Belgium: Rubel Bemelmans, Joris de Loore, Sander Gille, Joran Vliegen

Missing: David Goffin, Steve Darcis (BEL). Bob and Mike Bryan (USA)   

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 John Isner (USA) def #2 Joris de Loore (BEL) 63 67 (4) 76 (8) 64
#2 Sam Querrey (USA) def #1 Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) 61 76 (5) 75

Saturday final results

Ryan Harrison / Jack Sock (USA) def. Sander Gille / Joran Vliegen (BEL) 57 76 (1) 76 (3) 64

Sunday final results

#1 John Isner (USA) Ryan Harrison (USA) def  #1 Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) 63 64 (Dead rubber)
#2 Sam Querrey (USA) vs. #2 Joris de Loore (BEL) (not played)

Zonal action around the globe

There also are second-round ties in the Americas, Europe/Africa and Asia/Oceania zonal groups.

Among the ones to watch are Argentina vs. Chile (they don’t like each other too much in the sporting sphere). Austria v Russia, and the Czech Republic vs. Sweden feature two former Davis Cup powerhouses, now relegated to the zonals and trying to climb back up.

There are Group II ties as well in those regions. Group III round-robin ties in Asia/Oceania and Europe are also going on all this week.

John Isner wins first Masters 1000 in Miami

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John Isner looked dead after the first set of his Miami Open final against Alexander Zverev.

In fact, after the 32-year-old American pulled off a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4 victory to notch the biggest title of his career, he said that was the worst he felt all day.

“It’s crazy. I was the most tired the whole match in the first set. At the end of the first, beginning of the second, I caught a second wind. I started feeling so much better. I don’t know what happened. But I guess adrenaline helps,” Isner said during a post-match interview with ESPN.  “I was just ready for his moment. I’ve been here three other times and I’ve lost, on this stage. I was just ready for it. … “I won my first match in 3 sets, and that’s how tennis goes. You start to gain a little confidence and the next thing you know things start to roll your way. I just kept pushing.”

One 2018 match win coming in

It’s Isner’s 13th career title – and by far his biggest. Of those, 11 have been won in the U.S. – two Auckland titles are the only exception. But all the others have been lower-level ones, 250s.

Isner is the oldest-ever first-time Masters 1000 champion, the first American to win the Miami Open since Andy Roddick in 2010.

Isner
All the ballkids got a formal or semi-final handshake from Isner after they posed for a group shot. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Of the American’s 12 previous runner-up finishes, 11 have been in the U.S.

But Isner has had his chances at the Masters 1000 level before.

He had made three previous finals: the Paris Indoors in 2016, Cincinnati in 2013 and Indian Wells in 2012. All were close, but the American just couldn’t close the deal.

Isner credits conversations with David Macpherson – who also coached the Bryan brothers to their doubles title Saturday – with a change of mindset.

“I think it was maybe Wednesday before, you know, when the tournament had just started, we spoke – we had dinner and we hashed out, or I especially hashed out what’s been holding me back, and it’s not more reps on the court. I mean, I’m doing that. It’s not more time in the gym. I have been doing that. It was just mental things and myself being tight and tentative on the court holding me back. That’s the reason why I was losing close matches,” Isner said.

“We cleared that hurdle this week. So I went into every match, you know, super-fresh mentally and loose. We kept, after each match I won, we would have another dinner, have another dinner, have another dinner, and we kept hammering that point, just be loose, and I will be a force if I can play freely, and I was able to do that.”

No pre-Miami momentum

Coming in, Isner had posted just one match win in six tournaments, plus a win in a fifth-set tiebreak against Dusan Lajovic and Serbia in Davis Cup.

Isner
Zverev won the racket sculpture award for the day – after two tries. He probably needs to work on that. He did gift it to a lucky fan in the middle of the match, though. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

But on a weekend American tennis showed its best, he caught the wave with the help of improved returning, and solid play from the baseline.

And he did it against a player 12 years younger, one who first beat him when he was just a 15-year-old kid on the practice courts at the Saddlebrook resort in Florida.

Zverev, who destroyed one racket in the process, had nothing but gracious words for the man who defeated him.

“I want to thank you for kind of teaching me how to play the game, and practicing with me from such a young age,” he said during the trophy ceremony. “Even though you don’t believe it now, but you’re a big part of what I do on the court.”

Nice hug between the kid and the veteran at the net. Zverev said later that he defeated Isner, at age 15, in his final practice before heading Down Under to start the season. And that Isner was NOT pleased. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Isner was touched.

“I’m 12 years older than you, you’re 20 years old, you’re No. 4 in the world, you have the brightest future ahead, you have the greatest team with you, you do everything the right way,” Isner said. “I’ve been on tour with you the last four years, I see the work you put in. Just keep pushing along and you’re going to be at the very, very top one day.”

With the victory, Isner jumps back into the top 10 in the rankings for the first time since May, 2014. He had been as low as No. 27 in Oct. 2016.

“For me to, having come in here having won one match and to leave this tournament back to top 10 in the world – I think I got there in 2012 and I got back there in 2014, and now I have matched my high ranking in 2018, so I have done it three times. It’s up to me now to keep pushing forward,” Isner said during  his press conference.

“This is a big hurdle for me, mentally more than anything, to get over the hump in a tournament like this. I will have many more tournaments like this and see if I can maybe give myself another opportunity.”

Too many missed balls

At 20, Zverev already has three Masters 1000-level tour titles. He’ll have many more before he’s done. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

Zverev rued all the errors he made, errors that he said he hadn’t made all week.  But he didn’t have a smooth path to the final. The 20-year-old needed a third-set tiebreak to beat Daniil Medvedev in his first match, and he got past No. 28 seed David Ferrer 6-4 in the third set in the third round.

“I think I missed more shots today than I did the whole tournament. Yeah, I played bad from the baseline. But, you know, it’s not easy against John, because you always feel the pressure that if you get broken you’re not going to win the set. That’s maybe a factor,” he said.

Both now head to Davis Cup next weekend, which is not a fun turnaround.

Zverev must travel to Europe, and change surfaces. Germany will face a powerhouse Spanish team that includes Rafael Nadal on red clay in Valencia.

Isner, whose American team will be equally loaded against an undermanned Belgian squad missing David Goffin, only has to travel to Nashville.

(All screenshots from TennisTV)

Djokovic takes on Zverev (video)

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MIAMI, Fla. – Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev won’t play until the weekend as the No. 9 and No. 4 seeds, respectively.

So they got in some match practice Wednesday before a big crowd at the Miami Open.

Djokovic will be without coach Radek Stepanek (who is back in the Czech Republic) and mentor Andre Agassi during the event.

But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have lots of people on the court.

Physical trainer David Daglow, and physiotherapist Ulises Badio were both on hand (the two, and Djokovic, had matching Novak Djokovic silhouette T-shirts).

Agent Edoardo Artaldi, nattily attired, even chased down a few balls on court.

(We’ll note that Team Zverev sat comfortably in the shade through most of this practice, as Team Djoker did all the ball-boying. Noted! Could well have been pre-arranged; nothing worse than having six people on a tennis court looking busy chasing balls).

Sleeved, and matchy-matchy

Djokovic had the protective sleeve on his right arm. But as a matter of logistics, it also should be noted that whatever else he wears it for, the hot sun in Miami is murder on arms that have products like Voltaren Emulgel and the like on them.

When the sun here hits that stuff, it can be like a second-degree burn (yes, that’s from personal experience). In fact, that was the reason Milos Raonic started wearing his sleeve back in the day, so that he could keep playing after an incident like that.

Here are a few tidbits from that practice.

Stepanek to be a daddy

Meanwhile, Stepanek has a little – huge – personal matter to attend to, in his absence.

It’s official; he and ex-wife Nicole Vaidisova, who were engaged and married when Vaidisova was far too young and divorced five years ago, have reunited and are expecting a child.

 

A post shared by Nicki Vaidisova (@nicolevaidisova) on

  

Zverev to play exhibition in Milan

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The first thought is that perhaps ticket sales aren’t quite what the organizers of the Next-Gen finals in Milan were hoping for.

Because even though No. 1 Next-Gener Alexander Zverev bowed out of the inaugural 21-and-under event, he’s still going to play.

The 20-year-old will play an exhibition against alternate Stefanos Tsitsipas, after the two singles matches on opening day next Tuesday.

There are still some pricey tickets available for the weekend, although most of what’s left is described as “low” or “poor” visibility – and not cheap.

Seats are available in most sections all week.

Zverev bows out of Next-Gen final

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The decision by world No. 5 Alexander Zverev to pull out of next month’s Next-Gen Finals in Milan is a big blow to the tournament, in its inaugural year.

But it’s a throughly understandable decision.

Zverev also has qualified for the ATP Tour’s main year-end final in London, which is a huge accomplishment. At 20, he will be by far the youngest in the eight-player field. And he has played a lot of tennis this season.

He had said earlier in the season that he would try to play both. But cooler heads prevailed.

The ATP Tour Finals begin the day after the Next-Gen finals end.

“I have consulted with my team and in order to best prepare for London, we have made the decision that it is best not to play the week before in Milan. Therefore, sadly, I will be withdrawing from the Next Gen ATP Finals,” Zverev said in a statement. “However, I still plan on making an appearance at the beginning of the event to support the tournament and show my appreciation for my fans in Italy that were so supportive during my win in Rome earlier this year.”

That’s cold comfort, of course. 

And so, the field is complete:

-Andrey Rublev (RUS)
-Karen Khachanov (RUS)
-Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
-Jared Donaldson (USA)
-Borna Coric (CRO)
-Hyeon Chung (KOR)
-Daniil Medvedev (RUS)

It’s an international field, and the qualification of Chung is great news for Asian men’s tennis.

But it also signals something else – a resurgence of Russia as a future power.

The eighth player in the field will be an Italian wild card, given to the winner of a 21-and-under tournament played in Italy the previous week.

Federer, Bouchard to hit Hopman Cup

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There’s still a long way to go in the 2017 season.

But let’s talk about the start of 2018 already, shall we?

One of the first events of the year is the Hopman Cup exhibition, a long-standing event held on the west coast of Australia in Perth.

This year’s dates are Dec. 30, 2017 to Jan. 6, 2018. There’s usually a rocking New Year’s Eve party involved, too.

The biggest thing about the 2017 edition was that it was where Roger Federer began his comeback, after six months away. 

It was a perfect choice – matches against quality opposition, but with no pressure, to gauge his form. It worked out well for him a few weeks later in Melbourne at the Australian Open.

The good news in Perth this year, as the event announced the field on Wednesday, is that Federer is back.

That was actually the event’s first official announcement, all the way back in June. And it’s a major coup with no less than three ATP Tour events – Brisbane, Doha and the Maharashtra Open in Pune, India (formerly the Chennai tournament) no doubt vying for Federer’s $ervices.

Joining Federer on Team Switzerland will be Belinda Bencic, the 20-year-old who has had injury issues of her own. So this time, it will be her comeback.

Bencic has won just one match all year on the WTA Tour. And she was sidelinedwith a wrist injury from early May, until her return at an ITF event last week.

Federer did have an epic – a 7-6 (1) 6-7 (4) 7-6 (4) loss to his occasional practice partner Alexander Zverev.

But Switzerland didn’t actually win; France (Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic) defeated them in the round-robin portion and won the whole thing.

France isn’t among the eight teams for 2018. Neither are Great Britain, the Czech Republic or Spain – all of which took part in 2017.

Joining Federer and Bencic will be Zverev and Angelique Kerber for Team Germany.

Zverev played with Andrea Petkovic last year; this will be Kerber’s first appearance in Australia.

As well, Canadians Vasek Pospisil and Genie Bouchard will team up. Bouchard played with countryman Milos Raonic back in early 2014 – shortly before Bouchard’s big breakout result at the Australian Open.

Bouchard teamed up with Pospisil the following year in 2015. She defeated Serena Wiliams there, and then reached the Australian Open quarterfinals a few weeks later.

Russia’s Karen Khachanov will team up with Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Hopman
Bouchard and Pospisil faced Serena WIlliams and John Isner at the Hopman Cup three years ago.

For Australia, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Daria Gavrilova will represent.

David Goffin and Elise Mertens will play for Belgium

For the USA, Jack Sock and Coco Vandeweghe will fly the flag.

And, last but not least, Naomi Osaka and Yuichi Sugita of Japan fill out the field.

Switzerland, USA, Russia and Japan will be in Group B. Canada, Germany, Australia and Belgium will be in Group A, for round-robin purposes. They’ve already made the schedule, so fans can pick and choose what matchups they want to see well in advance.

Canada plays during the Sunday, Wednesday and Friday day sessions.  Federer will play Saturday (vs. Japan), Tuesday (vs. Russia) and Thursday (vs. the USA) evenings. 

That means Nick Kyrgios, the top Aussie, won’t be there.

But it’s a pretty interesting field nonetheless, with plenty of high-profile players on both sides.

The format is two singles, and then mixed doubles. Last year, they used the “Fast Four” format for the mixed.

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

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Pretty much everything Roger Federer touches turns to gold.

So why anyone would have any doubt that the first edition of the Laver Cup would be anything but a smash?

It was, on every level, a huge success. Sellout crowds, high-quality tennis, plenty of drama and emotion, a bulletproof format … and Roger and Rafa.

It was a such a perfect storm that even the absence of many top players turned out to be a plus.

Team World (Team America, really) ended up a young squad of millennials – both real and throwback. They decided to have their own private party in front of 14,000 people inside the O2 Arena, and millions more around the world.

“They had the better chants and the better moves, but in the end, Team Europe got it done,” said Laver Cup maestro Roger Federer, who pretty much notices everything and has a uniquely passive-aggressive way of letting you know.

Team World wins the “Team Fun” award

inauguralOutmatched on the court for the most part, Team World won the fun contest

The contrast between Team World and Team Europe couldn’t have been more stark.

Obviously most of the older players were on Team Europe. At times during the weekend you almost got the sense they were exchanging stock tips while Team World recreated The Floor is Lava, this summer’s trending challenge on YouTube.

Just keeping track of Frances Tiafoe’s ever-changing head gear was a trending challenge in itself. Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey were young again. And green rookie Denis Shapovalov got more corrupted by the day. He may never be the same.

But by the very end, the last 20 minutes of the Roger Federer match, Team World stepped it up – led by an emotional and demonstrative Rafael Nadal.

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Yes, Nadal actually did this in the heat of the Sunday drama. He got a little excited.

Superb staging

The “black” court turned out to play dark gray on television. And it immediately became a visual that will always be associated exclusively with the Laver Cup. 

The ball stood out on the stark backdrop for television viewers. But the blue and red lighting around the court and in the stands prevented it from being too drab.

As well, the stark white of the high-end sponsors also stood out. Don’t think that wasn’t a huge factor as well.

They really did think of everything. One complaint fans often have when watching tennis on television is that the radar gun that measures the serves is hard to find, and often hard to see. In this setup, the numbers were big and bright and always easy to find.

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The stage where the rest of the teammates cheered was also perfectly set up. The fans could access both teams during changeovers (and even during the matches) for autographs. But if the players wanted to leave the court – especially the losers – they could do so in a straight line towards the locker room. If they didn’t want to deal with the autograph seekers, they didn’t have to.

At the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore and to a large extent at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the fans are often in the dark as the court is lit up. It makes for a bit of an isolated atmosphere although it does hide any empty seats. At the Laver Cup, the stands were lit in a way that fit in perfectly with the court. But it also allowed you to see the fans.

It was pitch-perfect. It almost didn’t even look real.

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Next-Gen graphics, camera angles

A company based in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles called Girraphic was the mastermind behind the graphics, which were unlike most of what you see all season long.

They were spectacular, especially the ones superimposed on the net. 

Great variety of camera angles

The camera angles were also varied. The baseline cam (affectionately referred to as the “butt cam” because they often close in on the derrière of the player returning serve) has been used before. But rarely this often.

They also had an improved version of the net cam; Bob Feller, the legendary ESPN tennis producer, says, “stay tuned”.

Federer annihilated it at one stage, which was amusing. They had a fish-eye lens at the net that showed the entire court in a new way. There were slow-motion replays of emotional moments and Team Fun routines. It was frantic, but it didn’t feel that way.

Having the coaches on court – and the players playing coaches as well – made for far more interesting cutaways than you’ll see at a regular tournament. There, the endless go-tos are countless shots of Mirka Federer biting her lip, or Jelena Djokovic looking like she might lose her stuff at any moment, get old quickly.

They had to dim the microphones at times, given some of the cussing by Team World. (There were no such issues for Team Europe; captain Bjorn Borg said more during his trophy ceremony speech than he said on court for three days).

Trying too hard

For whatever reason, the braintrust behind the Laver Cup decided that the word “exhibition” was a bad word.

It was clear that a talking point went out to everyone to emphasize that it wasn’t an exhibition. That it didn’t feel like an exhibition. And that it meant something to these guys. They were devoted in their dedication to bringing home the Laver cup to their (country? continent? world section?). And that it meant the world to them.

The thing is, why is the word “exhibition” by definition a bad word?

That’s exactly what this was. Perhaps out of this, a new category somewhere between tournament and exhibition called “special event” may be created.

But they tried so hard. Way too hard.

It’s worth remembering that every single person trying to convince you the Laver Cup “wasn’t an exhibition” had a financial stake in the event. The players received a ton of money up front (and an additional $250,000 each for winning). Federer’s management company, Team 8, for which he is the biggest earner, made a major investment.

Everyone from the chair umpire to the all-star cast of commentators and analysts took home a nice additional paycheque for their participation. It was to the point where the commentators were making excuses for some salty language on Team World’s side with platitudes like “It just absolutely shows how much these guys want to win for Europe and the world.”

Actually, it just showed that they use profanity. As many of us do on a tennis court. As they do during the regular Tour events as well. But they’re not used to being amongst a gaggle of buddies on a tennis court with the microphones on.

Giving the players (and captain) such a pass would only happen in an exhibition. In many ways, the vibe on that level was much as it was for that first, money-heavy season of IPTL. Which was, of course, much derided as “merely an exhibition.”

Format on point

The very nature of the team format was going to make for great competition.

In a standard exhibition, where two top players fly in and out of a city for a one-nighter, they’re playing for themselves and the crowd. 

Regardless of the circumstances, if you play against two of the greatest of all time, you’re going to go all out. And if you are one of the greatest of all time, you didn’t get there by not taking it seriously every time you step on the court.

The place was packed. Everyone had fun. Everyone came out a winner. The fans loved it. Everyone made lots of money.

There is no downside, and little need to preach semantics.

The stated intention to honour the champions of the past in naming the event after Rod Laver, and having Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as captains (neatly dovetailing with the opening of the movie based on their rivalry) put a nice, sincere veneer on what is very much a money-making enterprise.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

What’s ahead

The pitch-perfect execution of the inaugural edition is a double-edged sword, in a sense.

Not that this is a bad problem to have.

But it’s going to be awfully hard to duplicate – for so many reasons.

First of all, the event is going to move around. Next year, at the same time, it will take place at the United Center in Chicago.

We know this, because the Laver Cup already had a video message ready from the mayor of the city, and they had a press conference in Chicago just after noon.

The well-heeled crowd in Prague was enthusiastic but extremely civilized. It was only in the waning moments that they began to do those things the diehard fans hate, like cheering for missed first serves.

The crowd in Chicago will be quite different.

The makeup of “Team World” also will be quite different.

What a perfect world it would be if this year’s cast were playing “at home” in Chicago. Their act would play even better. And imagine, conversely, that players such as Nishikori, Murray, Raonic, Anderson and del Potro had been on “Team World” instead of Shapovalov, Kyrgios, Tiafoe, Isner and Sock.

Team Fun probably a one-off

The atmosphere would have been completely different – not nearly as lively. And John McEnroe, as captain, wouldn’t have had nearly the same positive impact. That’s going to be impossible to recreate next year.

What if, next year, Federer and Nadal aren’t blessed with the same health and good form they’ve enjoyed this year, their renaissance year? It’s inarguable that these two are definitely on a year-to-year basis, at this stage.

Without them, it’s not the same event. It’s arguably barely a top-flight event, despite the illustrious resumés of the other player options. In the special-event solar system, star power counts exponentially.

It’s also worth noting here that Djokovic, Murray and Nishikori had not committed to the Laver Cup before their injury woes. Will that change now that they’ve seen it work so amazingly well? It might. It might not.

Federer and Nadal transcend borders. The others, not nearly to the same extent. You know Federer is committed as long as he’s healthy, given his business ties. Countryman Stan Wawrinka likely would do him a solid. But did Nadal just do a one-off favour for his frenemy? We’ll find out.

They should also consider shortening the time between matches. It could run a half hour or more. We realize the need to sell merchandise and adult beverages. But with only one match to talk about, the commentators had a tough time filling. And it’s easy to lose your audience these days.

Collateral effects

Overtly or not, this event has been positioned as a potential alternative format to the century-old Davis Cup competition. That’s partly because of the weekend team format. And it’s also because of the fact that Nadal and Federer played it while skipping representing their country this year.

No doubt there are plenty of secret board meetings over at ITF headquarters. And the drama is made even more real by the fact that the USTA and Tennis Australia – two federations that run Grand Slam tournaments under the ITF umbrella – are involved in a major way. At the very least, the huge money the players were paid just to show up dwarfs the relative pittance they earn for representing their country – with far fewer weeks’ commitment.

But the effects go beyond that, right to the heart of the Tour that made all these players rich and famous.

There were two 250-level ATP Tour events the week of the Laver Cup – Metz and St. Petersburg, Russia. There are two 250-level events in faraway China this week that brush up against the end of the event, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Stars needed at the 250s

It’s no secret that the 250-level tournaments are struggling to varying degrees. The only way they can make a good go of it is if they can attract a big name to play in the event. That draws the fans; more crucially, it also draws corporate sponsorship.

Metz and St. Petersburg were out of luck. (There was a story reporting that Djokovic had committed to the St. Petersburg tournament before he shut down his season). Tomas Berdych, who would have been the No. 3 seed in Shenzhen, pulled out before the event began. (Why he even entered it, knowing as far back as February when he was doing Laver Cup promotion in Prague with Federer that he’d likely play, is a question for him).

Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in Orléans this week. With his subsequent rise, he obviously was a big drawing card. He pulled out late in the game.

Tiafoe also withdrew from Shenzhen. He’s a crowd-pleaser. But it also cost him a chance to earn some ranking points which, at this stage of his career, he still needs. Denis Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in France this week. He only played on the Laver Cup’s opening day; he pulled out of Orléans that very day. That’s late in the game.

Tired, jet-lagged top seeds

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, the No. 1 seeds in Shenzhen and Chengdu, respectively, remain on board so far. But they’ll arrive in Asia very late, after a very long trip. And they’ve both signed on for doubles, as well.

Alexander Zverev is the top seed in Shenzhen this week, and was likely well-paid for it. He’ll arrive pretty drained, and jet-lagged, with little rest of prep time to face Steve Darcis in the second round.

They’ll be jet-lagged – and perhaps even a little hungover from the post-victory celebrations. They won’t have given themselves the best chance to win. That does them a disservice. And it also hurts the tournaments that no doubt paid them handsome appearance fees, as top-10 players, to show up.

And who knows if any other Laver Cup participants might have considered playing?

In the end, the Laver Cup seems to be here to stay. As well it should; it was all kinds of fun and, no doubt, quite profitable for all.

It’s only an exhibition. But it combines the best elements of everything tennis has to offer right now. It needs to stay.

What remains to be worked out is how it best can fit into the overall tennis landscape. Because it needs to fit. The alphabet soup of competing tennis factions all need to figure out a way to make that happen.

(All screenshots used for this post came from the Laver Cup’s livestream)