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Inside Team World: unleashing the ‘servebots’

Reillyserves

John McEnroe has made no secret of his desire to get into the Laver Cup win column.

In fact, the Hall of Famer even joked this week that his job could be on the line if Team World comes up short against Team Europe at TD Garden in Boston.

“It’s been so close every year. We could taste it,” said McEnroe, 62, whose six-man team fell 13-11 most recently in Geneva in 2019. “I know that all of us are hungry and eager. We’ve got a good mix. We’ve got people that can take the racquet out of their hands, and that’s the plan. Also, we’ve got some people that haven’t been here before, and I think that combination gives us good energy.”

Laver Cup veteran John Isner and teammate Reilly Opelka must step up to the occasion if McEnroe is indeed going to snap that Team World skid. The altitudinous Americans, two of the biggest servers the sport has ever known, can be dominant when their serves are on, regardless of who they are up against.

“There’s not many secrets to our games,” said Isner, at 36 the senior statesman on McEnroe’s roster.

“It definitely starts with our serve, trying to create scoreboard pressure, which is a very real thing, especially against players of Europe’s caliber. I think our plan is to try to keep these matches close, make them about a few points here and there and, hopefully, we can try to win those points.

We’re ‘servebots.’ That’s what we do. We probably don’t want to be rallying with these guys too much. They are all Top 10 in the world for a reason. But as Captain McEnroe said, we have a lot of power and weapons on our side, and we just have to utilize those and hope that it’s good enough.

“That’s the benefit to being a ‘bot’ and also the downside,” said Opelka. “But you’re 6-all in the third or 6-all in the fifth with anybody in the world, and by ‘anybody’ I mean anybody. It could be a Top-10 guy, could be a guy No. 150, 250, but that’s the upside.”

McEnroe will also look to the youthful exuberance of Canadians Felix Auger-Aliassime (21) and Denis Shapovalov (22) — Nos. 11-12 in the world, respectively — who have shown that they thrive on the energy of the crowd. Both broke new ground on the sport’s biggest stages this summer, each reaching their first major semifinal: Shapovalov at Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime at the US Open.

John and patrick McEnroe
Team World captain John McEnroe and Vice Captain Patrick McEnroe.

Plus, McEnroe’s got a tireless baseliner in 29-year-old Argentine Diego Schwartzman, and a passionate force in 95th-ranked Australian Nick Kyrgios, who says the Laver Cup week is his favorite week of the year. The fact that he’ll be playing at TD Garden, home to his beloved Boston Celtics, should only produce more emotion from the 26-year-old.

“I think everyone knows how special it is to be in such a great arena with so much history and so much sporting greatness to come out of this building, to be a part of it,” said Kyrgios.

I never thought when I was 12, 14 that I’d be playing, representing Team World with some good mates, some good friends. It’s a special opportunity to go out and do something special.

 “I’ve played this four times now, so I guess I’m a veteran of the event,” he continued. “It definitely brings out an array of emotions that I don’t feel when I’m playing any other event.”

 

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