Chicago already knows a little about team sports – think the Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox and Fire, the MLS Soccer team. This year, the sports-mad US city will learn a whole lot more about tennis as a team event.
After a stunningly successful debut in Prague in 2017 in which the Bjorn Borg-led Team Europe defeated John McEnroe’s Team World, the latter takes its turn at hosting in 2018. The red carpet is already being unfurled.
“We’re thrilled. We’re super, super excited,” says Kara Bachman, executive director of the Chicago Sports Commission. “There hasn’t been a major tennis event in our market recently, so this became a really incredible opportunity for us to get a piece of the tennis action. It’s a great fit for our city.”
Chicago’s last taste of professional tennis came in 1997, when Lindsay Davenport won the most recent WTA event played in the Windy City; one of the last marquee men’s matches featured the McEnroe brothers – now captain and vice-captain of Team World – in an ATP tournament final played in 1991.
“It’s a massive victory to get these international superstars into our city. We want everybody to come here and have a great time, and we’re very honored to host the event.”
Modeled on golf’s Ryder Cup – played at nearby Medinah Country Club in 2012 – four players on each team of six qualify based on their singles ranking as of the week following Wimbledon, with two additional captain’s picks selected by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
One of the many highlights of the three days in the Czech capital was the debut doubles collaboration between Federer and Nadal, who beat Jack Sock and Sam Querrey in a tightly contested match. As if the result mattered: simply seeing ‘Fedal’ do their thing on the same side of the net was more than enough.
In Prague, the 17,000 tickets available for each of the five sessions sold out to fans from around 50 countries – but 2018 could be even bigger. The historic United Center set to host the event is home to the Chicago Bulls, six-time NBA champions, and the NHL’s six-time Stanley Cup winners, the Blackhawks. Configured for basketball, the capacity is 22,500.
“There were many factors in choosing Chicago as the next host city,” explains Laver Cup Managing Director, Steve Zacks. “The United Center is a world class arena and there has not been a major tennis event in Chicago in many years. Chicago is a sports town and has demonstrated they can successfully host major sporting events.”
“I know that us being sports nuts was definitely a factor,” Bachman says of the city’s bid success. “Putting an event like this at the iconic United Center, where some of the most internationally recognized athletes have played, definitely adds a good vibe to the event.”
Beyond Chicago’s sports culture, there is a thriving arts scene, award-winning restaurants, and numerous cultural attractions, shopping and even beaches. This is a city known for outstanding 20th Century architecture and art, from Frank Lloyd Wright to Picasso.
Notable tennis natives include dual grand slam finalist Andrea Jaeger, current pros Donald Young and Taylor Townsend, and USTA president and CEO Katrina Adams, who grew up on the city’s West Side.
Adams expects the Laver Cup to “attract more players to our sport for a lifetime. We know the energy of Chicago sports fans and because of that we know that this will be a great success and a great opportunity to continue to grow tennis.”
“Chicago has been and is a huge tennis town,” insists Bachman. “We haven’t put the spotlight on it with a major event, but there just wasn’t the right opportunity until Laver Cup came around.”