Laver Cup diary: McEnroe urges ‘home’ support

Published by Piers Newbery

Team World captain John McEnroe answers questions during the Welcome Ceremony in Chicago; Getty Images
Captain John McEnroe wants Chicago to get behind Team World as they look to upset a star-studded Team Europe at the Laver Cup.

The second instalment of the Laver Cup came to life on Wednesday as the teams came face-to-face with Chicago’s sports fans, and received a rapturous reception.

In brilliant sunshine, and amid a blizzard of selfies, Team World and Team Europe took to the stage at the spectacular Pritzker Pavilion in Grant Park alongside captains John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and the man himself, Rod Laver.

REPORT: Laver Cup stars get Chicago welcome

After the success of last year’s inaugaural edition in Prague, the event now makes it North American debut – and McEnroe is keen to make sure Team World feel they have home-court advantage.

That might not be straightforward judging by the decibel level when Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were announced for the blue corner.

“We’re excited about getting the home-court advantage, hopefully, in Chicago, which is a great sports town,” said 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.”

On paper, the ‘home’ side are heavily outgunned in terms of rankings and major titles, but the indoor setting and high-paced format could even things up considerably.

The big serving of Kevin Anderson, John Isner and Nick Kyrgios will likely be key, while the contrast in Diego Schwartzman’s relentless ground game could cause an upset. Frances Tiafoe looks ready to relish the big stage and Jack Sock weights the doubles in Team World’s favour.

“Obviously these are some all-time greats [on Team Europe], so we’ve got our hands full,” added McEnroe.

“But we’ve got some tremendous players who can take the racquets out of our opponents’ hands with their games. We’re excited about what we have to offer.”

Despite the captain’s bullish words, were his players to have glanced across the stage at the opposition, they might have been forgiven for feeling a degree of trepidation.

“We’re ready,” was the simple response from a smiling Federer, 20 Grand Slam titles and all.

Next to him sat Djokovic, fresh from collecting major title No.14 in New York, along with world No.5 Alexander Zverev, ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov, world No.11 David Goffin and Australian Open semifinalist Kyle Edmund.

“I’m very happy to have such a great team this year,” said Borg.

“Team World has an unbelievable team, so I think it’s going to be very exciting matches. I’m looking forward going into the weekend. For me, it’s unbelievable – it’s a pleasure and exciting.”

Laver Cup: quick hits

  • Wednesday was the first day when the players were able to practise at the United Center, with the unique black court surface reappearing both inside the venue and at the practice court across the road in the Fan Park. Edmund and Schwartzman were the first players to hit inside the stadium, where 20,000 fans are expected across each of the three days.
  • Federer confirmed that he might be following up last year’s iconic doubles partnership with Rafael Nadal by teaming up with Djokovic this time around. “I would like to play with Novak,” said Federer. “I hope he feels the same way. We’re figuring it out as we speak, I think.”
  • Djokovic was given a similarly ear-splitting greeting by Chicagoans as Federer at the welcome ceremony, and proclaimed himself “excited” by the concept after watching on TV last year. He does not expect, however, to match Team World’s exuberance on the sidelines. “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,” he said.
  • Isner is not likely to be perturbed by anything that happens on court after a life-changing few days off it. The American became a father to Hunter Grace on Saturday, and will be heading back to wife Madison and their daughter as soon as the weekend is done. “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.”
  • Federer knows a thing or two about raising children as a father of two sets of twins, so any advice for the new parent? “He’s got big hands and a small nappy to deal with, it’s going to be quite complicated for him. But having children is the greatest thing in the world, so congratulations John.”
  • Borg might maintain the ice-cool exterior he exhibited as a player, but the passion still burns bright where Laver Cup is concerned. Declaring it “the most important week” of his year, the Swede added: “I believe that this event, Laver Cup, will stay forever. It’s a huge thing. Everybody enjoyed it. It’s going to be for many, many more years to come.”
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