Friendships made, records broken, excellent results for Laver Cup 2017 players. This was the Australian Open.
And so, the fairy dust has settled. Roger Federer is back in Switzerland cradling his sixth Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after spending a month in Australia. It could not have been a better start to the year for the now 20-time Grand Slam singles champion.
Scenic flights over sunny Perth, open practice sessions at the Hopman Cup, selfies with quokkas and a victory for the Swiss pairing of Federer and Belinda Bencic. Then onto Melbourne to defend the Australian Open title few believed he would capture 12 months ago.
This year, Federer was the stand-out favorite throughout the fortnight, the most dangerous obstacles coming in the form of Laver Cup 2017 teammates, Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals and Marin Cilic in the championship match.
Ahead of their 2018 campaigns, both Cilic and Federer stopped for a vacation in the Maldives with family and friends. Reported Federer: “When he arrived, I didn’t want to bother him. He didn’t want to bother me. After two days, he wrote me: ‘I’m here, too, in case you want to catch up and stuff, let me know.’ I was like, ‘Sure, let me know if you want to hit.’”
Federer said he had gotten to know Cilic better through the Laver Cup, where Cilic won one match and Federer three en route to Europe’s victory over the World at the inaugural event in Prague. “He was eager to hit because it’s good to stay in the rhythm for both of us,” Federer said. “We also met up later for drinks, met his fiancée. We had cake together, my whole family and him. We had a good time. It’s not like we’re hanging out all the time, but our paths crossed a few times. We actually went to practice twice for 45 minutes.
“It’s great fun. No coaches, no nothing, just the two of us on the court hitting balls. It was just nice and laid back. To get to know the man behind the tennis player, I guess, even though I got to know him better through the Laver Cup and so forth.”
Laver Cup 2017 competitors played well into the second week in Melbourne, notably Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios, who reached the fourth round, Rafael Nadal and Berdych the quarterfinals, Cilic and Federer the final – a reprisal of their Wimbledon 2017 championship match, which Federer claimed in three sets.
The tears bubbled over after Federer captured his 20th Grand Slam title, an out-pouring of relief and gratitude to have come so far, supported by so many.
“I got to the finals quickly and the semis was cut short,” Federer tried to explain after beating Cilic 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3 3-6 6-2 in the final.
“I had a lot of emotions left in me. When it was all said and done it reminded me of the Baghdatis final, it was really tough.” (In 2006 Federer defeated unseeded Marcos Baghdatis 5-7 7-5 6-0 6-2. Marat Safin was the defending champion, but pulled out due to injury.)
When ties were forged
Throughout the Australian Open, players noted the impact of the newly minted Laver Cup on the sports calendar.
Team World’s Denis Shapovalov, who lost to 15th seed Jo Wilfried Tsonga in a thrilling five-set second round match-up, was asked what impact John McEnroe, the Team World captain, had on his game during the inaugural competition.
“The whole Laver Cup experience was so much fun,” he told Canadian journalists. “It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to this year if I can get onto the team. Having John (McEnroe) on the side, it was pretty special. You have such a legend on your bench helping you. Unfortunately, it’s a short week and not that much time to get to know the guy and have a lot of pointers – but he’s definitely given me a couple of things that focused on my game – definitely tried to use that and help myself.”
Federer recalled the satisfaction of launching the Laver Cup, and his enduring connection to Rod Laver, for whom the event is named.
“A lot of fun, to honor the great man, Rod Laver himself,” he told center court fans in Rod Laver Arena. “Having a competition named after him was something special for us as an organization. It’s not just about him, but all the great players that have led to this point that we can enjoy this tennis today. We loved it as players, now we are going to Chicago, which should be so much fun as well.”
And while, to a certain extent Federer may put his feet up before his next scheduled events at Indian Wells and Miami, 79-year-old Laver stands in awe of what happened in Melbourne, where he watched many matches and presented Team Europe 2017 players with replicas of the Laver Cup Trophy as a special keepsake.
“For me, I think Roger Federer is certainly the greatest player that has come along,” Laver said. “Roger plays his greatest tennis on the big occasions, on any surface. He’s stood the test of time – that’s probably the one thing that puts you in that category of the best ever. It’s just unusual to see a wonderful champion like that be able to win at 36 after seven tough matches. You just marvel at his tenacity. He just seems like he’s floating all around the court – he’s not running. That’s something else.”
How will he keep it up?
“I’ve won three slams in 12 months, I can’t believe it myself,” Federer beamed. “Got to keep a good schedule, stay hungry and good things can happen. Age is not an issue per se, it’s just a number. My goals and priorities will dictate how successful I will be.”