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Rivard: The Laver Cup edition

Sep 28, 2021
written by: Paul Rivard
written by: Paul Rivard

The Laver Cup was held this past weekend, September 24 to 26, in Boston. 

After Prague (2017), Chicago (2018) and Geneva (2019), Beantown hosted the 2021 edition of the event at TD Garden. 

The heavy-hitting lineup and format, which is as spectacular as it is efficient and effective, compelled me to type up a recap of the three-day competition and performances by our very own Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, who played in five of the ten matches.  

Canadian Bruins 

Felix and Jack Sock in the changing room
Photo: Laver Cup 

Those of you who follow hockey already know that Boston is home to a few Canadian Bruins. Last weekend, TD Garden welcomed two more you won’t be seeing on the ice any time soon.  

At the fourth annual Laver Cup, Félix and Denis, who stand at No.11 and No.12, respectively, were the highest ranked competitors on Team World.  

How could we be anything but proud? 

Keep reading to find out why I’m a diehard fan of this exciting three-day tournament created in 2017. 

For now, let’s relive every battle our young prodigies fought for Captain John McEnroe and the reds. 

Team World at the Laver cup walking off court
Photo: Laver Cup 

Day 1: Félix vs. Matteo 

Aspiring champions, rivals, friends.  

Their match on day one was an absolute thriller.   

In the longest contest in the Laver Cup’s short history (2:54), Auger-Aliassime capitulated at 6-7 (3), 7-5, 10-8 after a barrage of spectacular rallies.  

Félix had some goods points and some not-so-good ones, and so did Berrettini. And isn’t that exactly what both players are prone to, especially in tight matches?  

Félix won the aces category (9–7) but also the double faults category (6–2). He got the most break points (13) but only converted one. He needed seven tries to win the first set, but Berettini closed out the second on his first set point and did the same with his first match point.  

After the first set, noting Félix’s failed attempts to build on his break and set points, McEnroe turned to him with a smile and said: “You know, Félix, when you’re serving at 5-3 with two set points, if you want to win right away and make it 6-3, no problem!”   

That said, even though it was exhibition tennis, being part of a team certainly counts for something and adds a little extra pressure. Considering the circumstances, despite the loss, it was one of the best matches I’ve seen Félix play, and I was very impressed. Combined with his great performances this summer, it feels as if he’s got some great momentum going.  

Felix hits a forehand
Photo: Laver Cup 

Day 1: Denis & John vs. Matteo & Sascha 

The opening doubles match happened to bring together the only two ATP players who have the same unusual pre-serve routine that consists of bouncing the ball between their legs from back to front.  

It also happened to save Team World from being swept, when Denis Shapovalov and John Isner secured 17 of the last 20 points to overpower Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 10-1.  

It was a tough day at the office for the Canadian, but his towering teammate gave him quite a boost. In his post-match interview, a relieved Shapovalov had high praise for Isner, one of the two American servebots who morphed into a returnbot  and was pure fire.  

Danis Shapovalov and John Isner celebrate a win
Photo: Laver Cup 

Day 2: Denis vs. Daniil 

Daniil Medvedev is the World No.2 and newly crowned US Open champion. No.12 Denis Shapovalov had to be better than perfect AND hope Medvedev was a little rusty in his first match since his big win in Queens.  

But that wasn’t the case. At all.  

As Shapovalov struggled to keep pace, the dam broke after seven games (4-3) and the Russian torrent came rushing in. Medvedev won nine straight games and coasted to a 6-4, 6-0 win, consolidating things for Team Europe in an unsurmountable 11-1 lead.  

Denis Shapovalov hits a backhand
Photo: Laver Cup 

Day 3: Denis & Reilly vs. Andrey & Sascha 

Shapovalov headed into yet another doubles showdown with yet another towering teammate. After a challenging first set, he and Reilly Opelka gave fans a glimmer of hope when they played a solid second set to force a super-tiebreaker.  

Denis Shapovalov and Reilly Opelka fist pump
Photo: Laver Cup 

In the end, ShapOpelka couldn’t make it happen, and the blues were victorious (6-2, 6-7 (4), 10-2).  

The win also confirmed Team World’s triumph in the biggest landslide in the event’s four-year history. At 14-1, with 13 points needed to take it all, the trophy was carried out and there were speeches all around.  

Day 3: Félix & Diego vs. Casper & Daniil 

Without any incidence on the outcome of the tournament, this head-to-head was just for fans. Still, being the consummate professionals they are and tasked only with delivering great tennis entertainment, Félix, Diego, Casper and Daniil gave the crowds what they came to see: some super fantastic exhibition tennis.  

Without any pressure to win, Ruud, Medvedev, Schwartzman and Auger-Aliassime gave fans a priceless gift: a demonstration of their talent, reflexes, athleticism, showmanship, ability to connect with the audience and reciprocal generosity.   

There was Félix’s half-volley—a no look winner that whizzed by a stunned Medvedev and Schwartzman’s impressive footwork in a nod to his nation’s OG sports superstar, the other Diego (RIP).  

I actually discovered a Félix I’d never seen before. The disciplined, brilliant and well-mannered young man is equally skilled at improvising, charming and entertaining the crowd to adapt to the style of play.  

There’s no doubt he’ll be invited to a lot of these types of events, in which his sport can serve important causes. At just 21 years old, he’s already a superb ambassador. Not unlike that guy named Roger he shares a birthday with. 

Diego Schwartzman and Felix Auger Aliassime smiling at an on court interview
Photo : TSN Screenshot

I heart the Laver Cup  

tennis ball with Laver Cup written on it
Photo: Laver Cup 

I’ve said it often and I’ll say it again (even though I get pulled into ongoing debates on the topic): the Laver Cup is the season’s most entertaining tennis competition, regardless of how prestigious some of the others are. 

It’s all the tennis you’ll ever need. 

Team World and Team Europe pose with Rod Laver and the Laver cup trophy

It’s got a bunch of stars per square foot, often sitting together having a great time, the modern flair of the charcoal court, low lighting, bright blues and reds and timed matches and a points system that really feeds the suspense.  

Wide view of the Laver Cup court during a match
Photo: Laver Cup 

Tennis is just like other sports: there are purists and there are those who don’t take things too seriously. Between them, there are the fans who enjoy the game and take an interest when the conditions are right. 

Unlike team sports, tennis doesn’t have an all-star match or some other event that brings together the best of the best.  

In golf, the other individual sport, there’s the Ryder Cup (at which Europe took a beating last weekend) and the Presidents Cup (which pits the US against much of the rest of the world).  

That’s exactly what Roger Federer and his friend and business partner Tony Godsick had in mind when they dreamed up the Laver Cup four years ago.  

Europe versus the world in a non-elimination tournament in which players rotate and alternate.  

Most importantly, it’s semi-exhibition style. 

That’s another thing many fans—and even some purists—really like because it’s fun. Teammates banter with each other and there are quick interviews when players change ends. At the same time, there’s still some ego involved, and everyone wants to win for his team.  

I’ll never forget the last match in 2017 when Nick Kyrgios, who’s known to be a mercenary without a cause, cried when he lost to Roger Federer (11-9 in the super-tiebreaker) after coming so close to securing a 12-12 tie and forcing one final showdown to decide the winning team.  

Nick Kyrgios holds a towel to his face
Photo: Laver Cup 

So, semi-exhibition style. The best of both worlds.  

What’s next? 

Roger Federer and Laver Cup by the Laver Cup trophy
Photo: Laver Cup 

On the court, the immortals are not eternal.  

The absence of the Big 3 made us all wonder if the Laver Cup would survive without the men’s tennis trifecta—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic—that has been lording over the game for two decades.  

One (or all three) may be in the mix in London in 2022, but then what?  

A few hours before the Laver Cup got underway, a lot of media outlets were hashing it out.  

Roger Federer takes a selfie with the Laver Cup Trophy
Photo: Laver Cup 

While Federer was in action at the first three editions (he is the organizer, after all), Nadal and Djokovic shared the task. Without them, would fans still attend? The Boston edition provided some answers, and the atmosphere was fantastic, even though a few favourites weren’t able to post a win.  

The tournament’s chances of survival depend on tennis’ ability to look to its young guns to renew the sport and carry on the tradition. 

Say Roger, Rafa or Novak, and everyone knows who you’re referring to. Now, it’s up to Daniil, Stefanos, Alexander, Andrey, Matteo, Casper and, of course, Félix and Denis to step up and fill the seats that are about to be vacant.  

That’s how the Laver Cup will secure its future.  

There’s no shortage of talent. Team Europe made that very clear with its fourth win in four events, even without its three kings.  

Team Europe hold the trophy
Photo: Laver Cup 

Get in touch with me! 

Email: privard@tenniscanada.com 

Twitter: @paul6rivard 

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