From the Bench: Patrick McEnroe, Vice Captain Team World
Team World Vice Captain Patrick McEnroe shares his memories from Prague and looks ahead to the sequel in Chicago.
American Patrick McEnroe coached Team World in 2017, with his older brother John igniting the side as team captain. The duo is set to return for the second instalment in September, where they plan to leverage the home court advantage.
Eight months on from the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague, what are your memories?
PM: No one really knew what to expect going into the event. All players there had participated at one time or another in Davis Cup or the Olympics and all the players had participated in exhibition-type tennis.
It became apparent right from the start that this would be an intense team competition. Never, for one point over the entire weekend, did I think I was watching an exhibition. A lot of it had to do with the setup of the event and the attention to detail. Having great players from all over the world, having team colors and uniforms, having a different colored court and having a full stadium right from the start of the event was tremendous.
The players took it very seriously and at the same time there was a camaraderie. Europe certainly had the bigger names and the higher ranked players, but it was impressive to see how much they wanted to win. Everybody was excited to see Roger and Rafa play doubles – that was a highlight. We were all motivated to win but we were also motivated by the concept.
The making of team chemistry
Were you surprised to discover how entertaining Team World was with all their unique celebrations?
PM: I was pleasantly surprised. Nick [Kyrgios] and Jack Sock are very good friends and the American guys had all played together in Davis Cup but it wasn’t planned. As the matches unfolded, having the teams there on a special bench behind the captains really added to it. All the things that the organizers did really paid off because it enabled the players to participate and get into it, as well as being close to the locker-room if they had to get a drink or go warm up for their match. Our guys knew they were underdogs and that something special had to happen for them to win. The format of the points gave us a real chance. Once they started doing some of the creative cheering, they would talk about it in the locker-room. ‘How are we going to top that? What are we going to do next?’ Whether it was the basketball hoop or the guys hitting a golf shot. They had a good time but they wanted to win and they were respectful of the competition. They were doing it in a way to inspire their teammates to play better.
What were your top moments across the event?
PM: The win over Nadal by Isner was incredible and all the doubles matches were extremely entertaining. Obviously the Rafa/Roger doubles match (which we almost won) – that was a highlight, and getting to know Kyrgios in a different way – he was a revelation. I found him to be a great team guy, really smart with his tennis IQ. Sock was phenomenal – he was the best individual doubles player in the whole event – and Shapovalov was a great burst of energy.
The whole event was one of the most memorable experiences of my tennis life. To see Borg and my brother out there, bringing what made them great as legends to the court. Borg very calm and stoic, John very fiery. Both with their different personalities. It was a perfect storm.
Coaching a team of individuals
How do you manage so many different personalities on one team?
PM: It goes back to something I learned from Dick Gould, a well-known American head coach at Stanford University. He would tell me and our team, ‘Tennis is an individual sport and you’ve got to treat everybody fairly when they come into a team but not necessarily the same.’ I used that advice when it came to Davis Cup: certain players, you had to push them a little harder; certain players you had to listen to them a little bit more, it depended on the personality of the players and where they were in their career. You can’t tell Roger Federer to practice the same way Rafael Nadal practices. A lot of it is just knowing the individual. These guys are such accomplished players already, it’s about communicating with them as to what they need and what they are looking for.
What is your role as Vice Captain?
PM: My role is to make sure the players are warmed up for their matches, to make sure we are getting to the courts on time. When you’re the captain you want to focus on the match and what is happening on court. I used to have my coach in Davis Cup make sure that the rest of the players were ready to go once they came out onto the court. I knew what was expected of me because I expected that of my coach through 10 years of Davis Cup. I wanted to make sure my brother had what he needed, as he was in the hot seat on the court. That’s got to be your 100% focus. I was there to support John and the guys and to prepare them for their matches.
Would you like to see any further changes for the Laver Cup Chicago 2018?
PM: To be honest, based on the reaction of the players and the fans and the media, we got pretty much everything right. There have been very few events that have been that successful right out of the gate. You don’t change a winning game plan.
Looking to the future
Will you have the home court advantage?
PM: There’s no doubt about it, my brother won’t have it any other way! We love Federer in the US and I’m sure people will come out to see him, but I’m certainly hoping we will have the top American guys back. Kyrgios will be a huge part of it, maybe [Juan Martin] Del Potro. There’s no doubt we will have the home court advantage.
Who else do you have your eye on?
PM: Hyeon Chung is awesome, he’s an amazing mover and a great personality. He would be high on the list. Frances Tiafoe is coming along well, he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Denis Shapovalov would be in the mix. There’s some good young talent out there from all over the world. Europe is always going to be loaded, but if we can get one of these young guys to step up, and a Del Potro to be part of the team, we’ve got a hell of a chance to pull it off.
Would you say the balance of power is swinging to the World?
PM: It’s starting to head in that direction when you look at the results from some of the Masters events this year. Isner, Chung, Del Potro. If you look at that, it’s starting to turn. The question is will it turn in time for the Laver Cup. I think it will.
You competed in Chicago against your brother in 1991, losing the final in three sets. How well do you know the city?
PM: That was the closest match we ever played. The other times he kicked my ass! I’m familiar with Chicago, it has a great sports tradition and amazing fans. There’s no doubt Chicago needs a tennis event and the Laver Cup is the perfect one for the city.