Tennis has had a bit of a bad run of it recently, hasn’t it?
The US Open has left a blemish on the sport in truth. What with umpire Mohamed Lahyani trying his hand as an inspirational speaker for Nick Kyrgios and Serena Williams taking on all comers.
Then to top it all off Novak Djokovic won again, continuing the mundane domination of the men’s game by the top three. Either Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer have now won 51 of the last 62 Grand Slams since the big RF first won Wimbledon back in 2003 — the ponytailed Swiss in tears as he raised the gold cup aloft — we all remember that one.
You’d have been forgiven for never wanting to watch a game, set or match ever again after the shenanigans in Flushing Meadows, but the Laver Cup had other ideas for your tennis love affair.
To spice up the relationship, tennis slipped into that old dress you used to love, put some big time beats on the stereo, and got Nick Kyrgios to, well, be Nick Kyrgios. This is a weekend you won’t forget in a hurry.
For the uninitiated, the Laver Cup was a three-day tennis event in Chicago this past weekend. It’s Ryder Cup-esque layout pans European players against all others, Team Europe vs Team World, blue vs red. The European side boasted our old pals Federer and Djokovic, while Kevin Anderson and John Isner were the stars for the reds.
With a two-set structure, followed by a first to ten tie-break if those are shared, the action was coming thick and fast in the United Centre. Two wins for team Europe gave them the advantage, before David Goffin and Diego Schwartzman produced a nail biter; the Argentine missing out after having match point in the decisive tie break, eventually going down 6-4, 4-6, [11-9].
The powers that be have said the Laver Cup shouldn’t be seen as a dead rubber exhibition event, but neither as serious as a Grand Slam, and they capture this spirit perfectly. With the rest of the team court-side as the matches unfold, the camaraderie between the players was a brilliant sideshow.
Novak ‘The Djoker’ Djokovic was in his element, whooping and hollering on the sidelines. Even managing to thump a serve return into Federer’s ribs during their doubles match. The Serb was quick to offer a compensatory massage to the world number two.
Like I said, camaraderie, banter even.
This was as far as you can get from the pretentiousness the sport can exude on occasion, a far cry from the all-white dress code of Wimbledon and the polite applause of the centre court crowd. It was a refreshing view on the sport, as we got to see the human side of the men we see conquer all comers on tour.
One man we never fail to see the human side of is Kyrgios. If he wasn’t running his mouth he was sliding on his stomach on the sidelines, like a six-year-old on the dance floor at a wedding. They say the Australian can make the impossible possible, and he did so again here, making an Isner match an enjoyable watch with his antics.
The drama is never far away when tennis’ bad boy is around, similar to Team World captain John McEnroe. You ever wondered what it would be like to see them both go all out on an unsuspecting umpire? Well, the Laver Cup is just the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it? After an unreturnable serve that Federer was nowhere near, the point was ordered to be replayed after wrongly being called out.
Kyrgios kicks off.
McEnroe kicks off.
It’s pandemonium on court. Proper pantomime stuff.
With the lead seesawing throughout, both teams were going at it court-side. As matches were worth one point on day one, two on two, and three on three, the drama really went down to the wire. This allowed Team World to take an 8-7 lead on the final day as Jack Sock and Isner saw off Federer and Alexander Zverev in the doubles.
Cue the chest bumps, the high fives, the back slapping. The works.
Not to be outdone, Team Europe brought out the press-ups after another victory, with captain Bjorn Borg wriggling like a big blue worm as he joined in. Two consequent wins for Team Europe ultimately secured the victory in Chicago, but the real winners were us, the tennis fans.
In truth, the action on court was a mere sideshow, this was more of a chance at redemption for the sport than anything else. Everyone knows what quality the biggest names in the game can produce, but after the last Grand Slam of the year tennis has had a grey cloud over it’s head.
This could have been the lasting image of the sport for 2018 for many, but as Rod Laver once said, “when you have the opportunity, you strike,” and that is exactly what the Laver Cup has done here. Instead of focusing on Serena and all the uproar surrounding her, people will be thinking of Kyrgios skidding along the floor and the joviality of the past weekend.
After only starting last year, this has got to be a staple of the tennis calendar.
The love affair is back on, although if Federer takes another victory in Melbourne in January, the the marriage counsellor will receive a call once again.
Featured photograph / Marco Verch / Flickr