Even on crutches, Federer is still the star of the Laver Cup
Even in his absence from the court, the competition remains closely associated with Federer’s image
Whatever the outcome of the 2021 Laver Cup on Sunday night, Roger Federer is likely to be somewhere in the picture – either as a co-founder of the event, or as a three-time defending champion, and as such a rightful member of “Team Europe”, which won the first three editions in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Federer, undefeated in singles at the tournament, is all of these things at once. And even on crutches, even in the stands due to a forced lay-off since Wimbledon, he was the big attraction in the first round of the event, where Europe leads 3-1.
FEDERER’S SURPRISE FOR TSITSIPAS
While he delivered his first public words since announcing his third deal with a Laver Cup sponsor this week – he added that he intends to play the event in 2022 and is optimistic about his return – his appearance in Massachusetts was a surprise, and meant to be.
Federer himself told the story of Stefanos Tsitsipas texting him in “we miss you” mode as he boarded his plane. Images of the reunion between Federer and the Greek player have since been posted on social networks.
Federer’s presence in the front row of the stands was the main image of the first day of competition. Spotted by the crowd who gave him a standing ovation, the Swiss had to stand up, take a bow, and accept the share of spotlight that was inevitable while Casper Ruud battled with Reilly Opelka.
The Norwegian was delighted to have him there, and didn’t resent sharing the spotlight – on the contrary: “Everyone went nuts, like he deserves. The crowd was going crazy, and it gave me chills. My hairs were raising on my arms. I was in the match mode, but still, it’s something you can’t block out from your feelings…It’s great to see him, like I said, on court back in tennis arena. Even though he’s not playing, he’s always a big part of the tennis world. This event, especially he was one of the guys who made it all happen and started it, so he deserved all the crowd cheer he gets.”
MAKING THE LAVER CUP A PERMANENT FIXTURE
Federer, in Boston, is above all the face of the Laver Cup to the world. He co-founded it with his agent Tony Godsick and his agency Team 8. A brainwave inspired by the Ryder Cup of golf, spectacular from its first edition with its intense and eventful doubles and its coaching scenes between members of the Big Three, the Laver Cup needs to succeed in its challenge of durability.
But in terms of sporting spectacle, the overwhelming dominance of Europe will eventually lead to fan fatigue. In terms of entertainment, the Laver Cup’s attractiveness depends on its headliners – Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini this year, compared to Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the past.
Federer did not come to show off, but promoting the Laver Cup justifies his public display of his post-surgery crutches.
“Tennis has a rich history,” he said to CNBC. “Rod Laver to me is this legend who was able to win two Grand Slams, who experienced the transition from amateur to professional. That’s where the idea came from, from Tony (Godsick) and I, during a trip to Shanghai, of a competition to showcase the legacy of tennis, selecting the best players from among the young to learn from other legends like Borg and McEnroe.”
A MIXED LAVER CUP?
The question of the Laver Cup’s continued existence is a topic that the experts on our Match Points debate programme discussed in the latest edition. Our panel’s ideas for keeping the competition alive after the departures of Federer and the Big Three included turn Federer and Nadal into captains, spark matches between them when they turn 50, or – more realistically – turn the event into a mixed competition.
The prospect seems somewhat uncertain, although it would have some merit, particularly coming from the man who finally made public the idea of a merger between the ATP and the WTA, even though it currently seems massively unlikely. From a sporting point of view, a mixed line-up is probably the main strategy by which to make the Laver Cup a more interesting competition.
With or without the top female stars, the real need of the Laver Cup has to be to get closer to the day when Federer can stay in Switzerland without showing up to an event in which he has no involvement, just to generate excitement among tennis fans.