PRAGUE: Long-time rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will achieve a career first in Prague this weekend when they play side-by-side in the Laver Cup, a Ryder Cup golf style event featuring Team Europe against Team World.
Nadal and Federer, who are back at the top of the sport’s rankings after sweeping the four Grand Slam titles in 2017, are expected to be selected by Europe team skipper Bjorn Borg to play doubles as well as singles.
It will be the two legends’ first appearance on the same side of the court in a rivalry which has spanned the best part of two decades.
“I would love to play with Rafa and see that forehand do damage on the other side,” said Federer, this year’s Australian Open and Wimbledon champion. “I’m sure that the crowd would go absolutely crazy and just because of that it would just be great to play.”
Joining Federer and Nadal in the Europe team are fellow top 10 players Marin Cilic, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem with former number four Tomas Berdych making up the squad.
Team World, skippered by John McEnroe, features four Americans — Frances Tiafoe, Sam Querrey, John Isner and Jack Sock as well as Australian crowd puller Nick Kyrgios and Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov.
Tiafoe, who gave Federer a scare at the US Open, was a late call-up for Juan Martin del Potro.
The three-day tournament runs from Friday to Sunday and will feature three sets per match, the last of which is a super tie-break (10 points).
There are four matches a day — three singles and a doubles.
Nadal, who added the US Open to his Roland Garros title earlier this month, said he may be a little ring-rusty over the weekend having taken a break following his New York triumph.
“I didn’t practice here yet, of course after the US Open. After a big event you go down a little bit, you need to recover energy. I have today and tomorrow to practise hard and let’s see then,” said the Spaniard.
Ironically, the Laver Cup presentation took place on Wednesday in Prague’s old town on the same day that tennis’s flagship team event, the Davis Cup was holding its draw for the 2018 season.
Last weekend, the semi-finals and play-offs for this year’s Davis Cup took place but without the likes of Federer who opted out of Switzerland’s tie against Belarus.
The Davis Cup schedule has come in for a constant stream of criticism from top players wary of adding more pressure to their calendars.
However, Kyrgios did play at the weekend as Australia lost to Belgium in the semi-finals in Brussels. He said he was looking forward to the different nature of the Laver Cup.
“I’m expecting a lot of fun, but at the same time I know that it’s going to be very competitive,” said Kyrgios. “We’re definitely underdogs, going into it, but I think we’ve got the weapons and we can definitely win this competition. I love the team event, I love to get behind my teammates and do everything I can as a competitor or as a team player to get the win.”