For all the pride and competitive spirit that exists at the inaugural Laver Cup, it is also a showcase of tennis unity. As rivals become teammates, new friendships are forged – and those that exist already become stronger than ever before.
Nick Kyrgios, thriving in the group setting, explained it after he teamed with Jack Sock to claim Team World’s first point in doubles on day one.
“Events like this are perfect, because you create friendships, and if you win an event like this, then you’re never going to forget about that,” said the boisterous Australian. “You have amazing memories.”
Kyrgios has several close mates in Prague this week. Countryman Thanasi Kokkinkais, a Team World alternate, is one of them.
And Sock is not only an occasional doubles partner for Kyrgios but also a close friend – the pair often spend off-court time together at events and during the recent US hard court season, the Australian even made a side trip to Sock’s home city of Kansas.
Extending that camaraderie courtside at Laver Cup has provided entertainment aplenty – whether that be dropping for push-ups, spinning on the ground or leaping onto the captain’s bench – and drawn other Team World members further into the group.
“We are all really good friends, everyone on Team World. Especially me and Jack and Nick are extremely close,” said Frances Tiafoe, who embraced the support as he contested the first match of the Laver Cup against Marin Cilic.
“It’s just kind of like a Davis Cup feel but even better because it’s among friends and not only for your country.”
Over on Team Europe, the celebrations are more muted – “They are much younger than us,” smiled the good-natured Nadal – but the off-court friendships are equally strong.
A more personal relationship between Nadal and his world No.2 rival Roger Federer has been brought into focus at the Laver Cup, where they have teamed in doubles for the first time.
“After all the history that we have behind us, like rivals, to be together the same part of the court, fighting for a team is something that I think we really enjoyed a lot,” said Nadal after he and Federer claimed a win over Team World’s Sock and Sam Querrey.
“This was something very special,” added Federer. “It’s been an absolute pleasure sharing the court with Rafa on the same side of the net.”
And there are other rivals who have also have resumed friendships in Prague.
Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, the respective captains for Team Europe and Team World, featured in one of sport’s best-known rivalries during their playing careers. Now the superstars speak often of their connection off court.
“We’re great friends,” said McEnroe of Borg earlier this week. “We’re still in touch. We don’t see each other as much as I would like. He lives in Stockholm, I live in New York.
“We’re not playing any more against each other, which we obviously used to do a lot more of. We haven’t seen each other as much recently as I’d like.”
Borg was happy to redress that balance in Prague. “To see him on the other side (of the court), it’s a special feeling,” said the Swede. “I mean, I’m happy I’m captain of Europe, and I’m sure he’s very proud to be the captain of the rest of the world
“We keep in touch. We have been doing that for many years. We are very good friends.”