Sports legend Roger Federer brings big-time tennis back to Chicago.
Roger Federer rips a backhand during a 2017 Laver Cup match (Photo: Ben Solomon/Laver Cup)
For one weekend this September, Chicago is set to be the epicenter of the tennis world, as superstars Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios and a dozen others converge on the Windy City for the Laver Cup, a team competition that made its debut in 2017 in Prague to riotous acclaim. At the heart of it all is Federer himself, still a worldbeater at the ripe tennis age of 37 and more beloved than ever. As the sporting legend prepares for this year’s Laver Cup, he recently chatted with Michigan Avenue about the event’s inspiration— and what makes Chicago the ideal American host city.
What was the inspiration for Laver Cup? Today’s players have a great life—we have it so much better than the players from the last generations. That was the spark that led to the creation of the Laver Cup. Rod Laver and his fellow barnstormers helped usher in the Open era of tennis and the great rewards that today’s players enjoy. The Laver Cup was conceived as a way to recognize Rod for his personal sacrifice, and he will benefit from it well into the future. The competition itself was inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup; the result in the first year was three days of thrilling competition that was decided in a tiebreak in the last match.
The first Laver Cup last year was a great success. What excited you most about it? I am first and foremost a tennis player. I have not had a lot of experience seeing a new concept from vision into reality. It was incredibly rewarding to have an idea, work as part of a team to make it happen, and have it be so well received.
How is it different to be on court representing not just yourself but all of Europe in Laver Cup? Tennis is an individual sport; you alone must solve your opponent once the match begins. When you’re part of a team, you have responsibilities to others. You have a shared goal. You want to help them succeed on the court when you are on the bench, and when you are on the court, you don’t want to let the others down. In Prague, Team Europe practiced, planned and ate dinner as a team. We formed deeper connections that continued through the season.
Flashy Australian Nick Kyrgios was one of the stars of last year's Laver Cup debut. (Photo: Ben Solomon/Laver Cup)
What inspired the idea of having this year’s event in Chicago? The Laver Cup moves between a European city and a ‘rest of the world’ city each competition. The USTA, one of our partners, wanted to have the 2018 edition in the USA. From there, Chicago was chosen because it has a world-class arena, the United Center, has a record of success hosting large-scale sporting events, has a big base of tennis fans but had not hosted a major event in 27 years, and is a business center and desirable tourist destination. On top of that, the city really wanted us to come.
What did you enjoy about your visit to Chicago earlier this year? It was great fun. I traveled around with Rod Laver, John McEnroe and Nick Kyrgios. In a few short hours I had the chance to eat deep-dish pizza, stop in at the Chicago Theatre, have a hit in front of the ‘Bean,’ do a press conference at the Chicago Athletic Association and take a tour of the United Center. Mayor Emanuel, [Chicago Fire star] Bastian Schweinsteiger and Scottie Pippen took time out to welcome us. I look forward to coming back and seeing more.
How will this year’s event be different? Last year, we knew we had many of the best players in the world and a unique presentation and style, including a black court. But we didn’t know what would happen when the games began. And it exceeded our expectations: The players really took to being teammates. They supported each other and fought hard for each win. We, Team Europe, won in a tiebreak in the 12th match; it was magical. The players loved it, and so did the fans. This year comes with expectations. And there will be new players on each team. I’ll be playing with Novak Djokovic for the first time, for example. It will be a new chapter in an evolving story; I hope everyone comes out to see it.
Hospitality packages $5,250-$7,500, Sept. 21-23, United Center, 1901 W. Madison St., 312.455.4500