Inside Team World: Riding the home-court advantage
“We’ve got to bring energy,” was John McEnroe’s rallying cry as he urged the Chicago fans to get behind Team World when the Laver Cup gets under way on Friday.
McEnroe is determined to claim the trophy for the red side after Team Europe won the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague last year, and he sees a partisan crowd as key to his side’s chances.
“I’m very much looking forward to coaching this team,” said McEnroe.
“We’re excited about getting the home-court advantage, hopefully, in Chicago, which is a great sports town. I think we’re looking forward to showcasing our talents this weekend.
We’re hopeful that the crowd is as involved or more than they were last year – John McEnroe
“We have four of the six core guys from last year. I think together we work really well, so we’re excited. But we’re hopeful that the crowd is as involved or more than they were last year.”
And the American great could not resist a gentle jibe at the star-studded opposition, adding: “We have some worthy opponents but they look, dare I say, beatable this weekend.”
Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg insisted his side are going to “keep the Cup in Europe” but debutant Novak Djokovic did concede there was one area, off the court, where the blue side would likely trail the reds.
“I think there is no competition with Team World for their support, their choreography beside the court, so I think they’ll take that title for sure,” said the Wimbledon and US Open champion.
Anderson’s home away from home
He might be from South Africa but it’s Kevin Anderson who looks like mobilizing the most home support once the action begins at the United Center.
The world No.9 spent two-and-a-half years at the University of Illinois – a fact that drew a huge reaction when he was announced to the Chicago crowd at Wednesday’s welcome ceremony – and it was also at college that he met his wife, Kelsey.
“My wife’s family is from just 20 minutes north of here,” said Anderson.
It’s a very special place for me. I love being in the city – Kevin Anderson
“It’s a very special place for me. I love being in the city. When I saw it was going to be in Chicago, I was really excited about that, especially tennis in a city that’s so crazy about sports.
“I feel like tennis hasn’t been able to have the same exposure, so bringing an event like this with some of the best players in the world, both present and past, I really hope it, you know, gives tennis a sort of the amount of credit it deserves. People love tennis here.”
Just in case he was feeling too comfortable, however, Team Europe’s Roger Federer had a warning for Anderson from 12 months ago.
“Kevin, you have a lot of pressure with John in the chair,” said the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
“Last year he was extremely aggressive to some of the players, like he was really firing them up. I hope you can handle that!”
New dad Isner ‘on cloud nine’
One man who is unlikely to be troubled by anything that happens on court in Chicago is John Isner, who is still getting used to the fact that he is now a father.
The American has , briefly, for the chance to try and go one better than last year, when he was part of the Team World outfit that came so close to upsetting Team Europe.
“It’s been very exciting,” said Isner.
“My daughter was born on Saturday night, so obviously I’m on cloud nine right now, so happy, and I’ve been able to get up here, then I’m going to shoot back home and be with my wife and daughter.
“But first things first, we have some business to take care of here in Chicago and we’re going to see if this team can do it.”
Baby Hunter has played her part by sleeping soundly in her first few days, leaving her dad in good shape to take on Team Europe.
“As of right now I’m fresh and ready to go,” he said. “Ask me that in a week, I won’t give you the same answer.”
There is plenty of experience around Isner this week if he needs any tips on parenthood, including Federer, a father to two sets of twins.
“He’s got big hands and a small nappy to deal with,” joked Federer, “it’s going to be quite complicated for him.
“But having children is the greatest thing in the world, so congratulations John.”