PRAGUE (Reuters) - With a sold-out stadium, compelling matches and a doubles pairing of the world’s top two players, organisers of the inaugural Laver Cup got what they wanted in the three-day event.
In a bold bid to add a new tournament to an already crowded tour calendar, the Laver Cup pitched Europe’s top players against a team from the rest of the world.
From Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer teaming up in doubles to the Swiss clinching the title in a tie-break in the final match, the organisers served up a three-day tournament that appealed to both fans and players.
While television viewing figures were not immediately available, the tournament sold out in a few hours with about half the ticket sales coming from a mix of 50 countries outside the Czech Republic where the event was held, organisers said.
“We had coverage that was equivalent to a grand slam,” the tournament’s managing director Steve Zacks told Reuters, referring to the number of people across the world able to view the event.
“You can create a tournament but in the end the players themselves have to buy into it as being meaningful and something they want to win.”
Whether the players would treat the event like an exhibition was a question in the leadup, but a series of hard-fought games helped create a competitive atmosphere.
Organisers said 83,273 people attended the five sessions in Prague’s O2 arena, which had a capacity of around 16,700 for the event.
“I wasn’t too worried about the matches to be quite honest,” said Federer, who conceived the idea for the tournament along with his sports management company Team8.
“I knew they were going to be competitive because we are playing to win. Your level drops if you’re just having hit and giggles and it’s more fun to play full and see if you can get something out of yourself.”
Nadal and Federer were joined by Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych while the world team comprised Sam Querrey, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe.
The organisers, who signed on Rolex, JPMorgan Chase and Mercedes-Benz as key sponsors, see the event as tennis’s answer to golf’s Ryder Cup.
While the matches may have lacked the intensity of a grand slam event, the players made clear throughout the week they took the tournament seriously, while boisterous fans helped energise the atmosphere.
“We are here to try our best. I don’t practice before an exhibition match normally,” Nadal said after telling reporters he woke up early for practice sessions.
Aside from the appearance fees based on world rankings, members of the winning team get $250,000 in prize money while the losers get nothing at the tournament named after Australian great Rod Laver.
The teams were captained by Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, whose own rivalry starting in the 1970s featured a contrast in temperament and style that made their matches the kind of must-watch events that the Laver Cup hoped to showcase.
Organisers also implemented a format to keep the pace of the matches moving and to spark fan interest. A win was worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday with the winning team the first to reach 13.
That allowed Team World to catch up and push play into the final match in which Federer put away Kyrgios in a dramatic tie-break.
The 2018 tournament, which will rotate between Europe and the rest of the world each year, will take place in Chicago from Sept. 21-23.
“Time will tell how big the Laver Cup will become,” said Federer who later added he was pleasantly surprised at the level of support that players gave their team mates by watching the matches courtside rather than returning to their hotel.
Reporting by Michael Kahn and Jason Hovet; Editing by Toby Davis