As the first Grand Slam of 2018 continues in Melbourne, Rod Laver reflects on the moments he will forever cherish following the inaugural Laver Cup.
In its early passage to the world sporting stage, the word ‘honor’ has become synonymous with the Laver Cup.
“I had a vision, once upon a time,” Roger Federer said during the trophy ceremony after Team Europe secured the win over Team World in September, “that we should honor the great players of our sport. It’s not just the players standing on court today. But there’s so many more that have paved the way for us.
“And of course, the great man, Rod Laver. It’s so nice to see you here, healthy, in full flight watching all the matches, and being so happy to see us play. We battled hard and I hope you’re happy because I am extremely happy.”
Rod Laver is indeed happy and, as he reflects on his time in Prague, incredibly humbled.
“Roger and I have been pretty pally for some time. He wanted to make sure that nobody forgot about amateur tennis. Everybody forgets there was tennis before Open [era] tennis,” Laver told lavercup.com ahead of his trip to Melbourne to attend the Australian Open.
In the amateur era, pre-dating 1968, Laver and his friendly rivals – including Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson and Lew Hoad – traveled the world competing against each other for the honor of winning the best tennis silverware of the times, for little remuneration. Their dedication and love of the sport paved the way for professional tennis.
“They put a lot into it and all they received was a pat on the back,” Federer has said of his tennis forefathers.
Honoring the past
The Laver Cup was created to acknowledge those players who stood up for what they believed in, gave up the opportunity to win many prestigious titles by ‘going pro’ and brought about the Open era.
Laver, an 11-time major title winner, who completed the coveted Grand Slam in 1962 and in 1969, was deeply moved by the spectators who came to see the Laver Cup unfold, and for the excitement each match generated in the jam-packed arena.
Said Laver, “It wasn’t a friendly little gathering.” Seeing some of the game’s greats teaming up on the black courts in an intensely competitive environment was a thrill, and a reminder of how special tennis can be.
“Viewing Rafa and Roger playing doubles together and just seeing them together on the court, it reminded me of the matches when we were amateurs. It was Emerson, Rosewall and myself playing and it was really fun to see.”
Heralding the Next Gen
Amidst the iconic scenes of the established greats playing together was the arrival of the ‘Next Generation’ of the men’s circuit. Canadian Denis Shapovalov, American Frances Tiafoe, Austrian Dominic Thiem, Australian Nick Kyrgios and German Alexander Zverev. Throughout the year, these young men travel the world playing for themselves. At the Laver Cup, they were playing for their team – Europe against the World – current greats and past legends.
“Kyrgios played so well against the European players. That final match was so close,” Laver said.
Another player who caught the Hall of Famer’s eye was Shapovalov, who played a spectacular match against Zverev on the opening day.
“To me, in two or three years, he’ll be so close to the top. He’s very talented and he plays confidently. He’s got such grit and determination.
“It was just amazing. The tennis was so good and the atmosphere around it … close to 17,000 people each day and the amazing thing was – nobody left. Everybody watched every single moment. Having my son there and his wife – my granddaughter – all three of us watched every match. That was a great highlight.”
Each player demonstrated world-class talent determined to win for their idols, predecessors and their team. An honor to play, and an honor to witness.