As scores of tennis fans, tourists and other onlookers gathered in Prague’s Old Town Square to welcome captains, team members and the namesake of the inaugural Laver Cup, it was clear that this is a city excited to welcome such legends of tennis.
Some watched on from balconies or second or third floor windows of surrounding buildings – practically all of them yielding cameras to capture the rare tennis moment.
And as those players arrived in the historic setting – followed by the stunning iconic Laver Cup itself and the legendary Rod Laver, for whom this innovative event honors – it was clear that competitors were equally excited.
Team World appeared first, led by Sam Querrey, John Isner, Jack Sock, Nick Kyrgios, Denis Shapovalov, Francis Tiafoe and Thanasi Kokkinakis (an alternate). They were joined by their captain and his deputy, John McEnroe and his younger brother Patrick.
From the stage that had been specially assembled in the iconic location, the players pulled out their phones to photograph the crowds that had come to greet them. Others turned to record the historic buildings. All of them seemed slightly awed as they discussed the special scene with each other.
Team Europe members were equally absorbed by the occasion. Led by Bjorn Borg and vice captain Tomas Enqvist, the crowd was delighted to welcome Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych.
“I’m honored to be the captain of Team Europe,” said Borg. “I know it’s going to be a great competition, one thing is for sure, we are here to win.”
Those words from the Swedish legend were a pointed reminder that for all the festivities, there is also the business of winning.
For Team World competitors, there were obvious indicators of the challenge in front of them. The roar that rang out for opposing team members – popular local Berdych, prolific Federer and world No.1 Nadal especially – not only underlined the caliber of their competition but also highlighted that the Laver Cup is being staged in a home city for Europe.
Team World, however, is not without its supporters. The cheer that rang out for them was more muted but no less definite. Kyrgios, who seemed especially recognizable to crowd members – perhaps by virtue of wins he has claimed over Nadal, Federer, Zverev and other Team Europe competitors – was the first to offer a cheeky challenge.
“I feel like we have great chemistry and I’m looking forward to creating a great upset,” the 22-year-old from Australia smiled.
As the players greeted the press afterwards, Nadal and Federer indicated that they’d already considered that possibility.
“I tell you one thing, when the best players of the world are playing always, it’s going to be very exciting,” said Nadal. “We have a great team and the World Team has a great team so it’s going to be very interesting.
Little more than a week ago, Nadal had celebrated his 16th Grand Slam victory at the US Open. The world No.1 is now contemplating the unique challenges presented by the Laver Cup’s special format.
“Every day the value of the victories (represent) more points,” Nadal noted. “It’s going to be very, very interesting. Playing super tiebreakers in the third set … all the matches (are going to be) close. Anything could happen.”
Federer also points out the Laver Cup’s exclusive characteristics. “This is a very unique event,” he told media. “I hope it will be very special for the players to always want to play and always want to represent their country and respectfully their continent.”
Most intriguing for many is the possible doubles union between Nadal and Federer for Team Europe. Later, the two legends of tennis sat together and indicated that they’re equally anticipating possibility, should Team Europe captain Borg makes that selection. “No pressure,” laughed Federer.
“I am very excited to play here and to have all these great players next to me that I normally have in front of me,” added a beaming Nadal. “I am really looking forward to it.”