Inside Team Europe: Federer and Djokovic strategize
There was every chance it was going to happen at some stage, but Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg sprang a surprise by calling up Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for doubles duties on day one of the Laver Cup.
“Thrilled and excited,” was how Federer described himself at the prospect of playing alongside another great rival 12 months after successfully teaming up with Rafael Nadal.
Federer and Djokovic will face Jack Sock and Kevin Anderson in the fourth and final match on Friday, and it appears the tactics are a work in progress.
“We have had so many great battles in all the singles courts, and to finally team up together I think is going to be very special for both of us,” said Federer. “I think we still have to talk over it a little bit exactly maybe either who’s going to take the lead or, you know, how do we play exactly.”
Within minutes, there was progress, as Djokovic deferred to Federer when asked who would play where.
“I think I will take the deuce side,” said the Swiss. “If Novak is okay with that, I will be happy to play on the deuce side.”
Smiling with the confidence of a man who has recently won Wimbledon and the US Open, Djokovic agreed. “I think I’m okay on the backhand,” said the Serb, to laughter all around.
No knocks in blue locker room
To finally team up together I think is going to be very special for both of us – Roger Federer
Team Europe heads into day one with a clean bill of health, at least according to Alexander Zverev.
Federer appeared to be hinting at a few aches and pains in the blue locker room until his teammate helpfully interjected.
“I speak to Bjorn about maybe what I could try and not try in practice,” said Federer.
“We talk about who should play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, who is willing to play a lot, who is maybe, you know, carrying an injury.
“So maybe normally we don’t talk together as players, I don’t know, how is your knee, how is your shoulder, how is your ankle?”
Clearly able to spot the next question heading their way, Zverev stepped in.
“By the way, we’re all healthy,” grinned the German.
‘A marathon not a sprint’ – Federer
Jeremy Chardy might be playing the role of alternate this week but it appears he is in for a busy few days all the same.
The Frenchman’s proficiency at both singles and doubles made him a fixture on the practice court for much of Thursday afternoon, playing singles with David Goffin, teaming up with Djokovic for a doubles hit against Goffin and Kyle Edmund, and then taking very specific direction from Djokovic as he fired serves at the former world number one.
He has also been given arguably the toughest task of the week – making Team Europe’s off-court game as competitive as their on-court prowess.
“We have Jeremy for that,” said Zverev when asked who would be head cheerleader. “He’s our team leader,” confirmed Grigor Dimitrov.
Federer put last year’s relatively sober performance down to Team Europe’s age, saying: “We were happy to sit and fist-pump when required. We knew where the finish line was. This was a marathon, the weekend, not a sprint. They took it as a sprint. They were all out, and it was a lot of fun to watch.”
‘Borg made me better’ – McEnroe
We might have become used to the sight of Borg and opposite number John McEnroe in close quarters once again, but it is clearly an experience that still moves both men.
The Swede famously, and unexpectedly, quit tennis at the age of 25 and gave a rare reflection on that decision.
“If I could change? I don’t think I would change, actually, anything,” said Borg, winner of 11 Grand Slam titles.
I had a great career. It was a lot of fun. I did what I wanted to do to play tennis, to travel around the world – Bjorn Borg
“I had a great career. It was a lot of fun. I did what I wanted to do to play tennis, to travel around the world. Tennis gave me a lot. I was very happy.
“I mean, I retired when I was young, but I was happy doing that, too. That was not a major problem for me.”
Shown footage of their legendary Wimbledon finals in 1980 and 1981, McEnroe paid tribute to his fellow team captain.
“This guy was my greatest rival and he brought me to heights that I never thought I’d get to,” said the American.
“When people ask me about my career, 100 times more than any other match it’s the 1980 Wimbledon final I played with that guy.
“So I’m proud that we had that rivalry and at least I got him once at the end there.”