December 2017 Once In Our Lifetime
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Tennis fans around the world stopped for 81 minutes to watch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal unite for the first time on the same side of a tennis court. This was the sport’s equivalent of a solar eclipse. Thirteen years after their first singles match against each other, Nadal and Federer played their first doubles match together.
Where? At the Laver Cup, which made its debut in September in Prague and which is likely the closest thing that tennis will ever have to the Ryder Cup in golf. The format was similar—Team Europe took on Team World in a fast-paced, three-day competition—and so was the unusual intensity that format generated. Like their peers in golf, tennis’ top male pros made the most of their opportunity to cross national boundaries, root openly for each other, and show the emotions that their formal, individualistic sports normally force them to keep in check.
Federer and Nadal began with a hiccup or two; Nadal nearly decapitated Federer when he reached back for an overhead. But they managed to win that match, and to squeak past the much younger Kyrgios and Sock, 11-9 in match tiebreakers, in singles. In between, they talked tactics, high-fived, laughed, hugged, cheered for each other, and sprayed themselves with champagne when it was over. Nadal and Federer seemed to revel in the chance to try out a new relationship, one where they could put their all-time talents together rather than use them against each other.
Laver Cup showed us there can be something—many things—new under the tennis sun. The best of them was seeing that Rafa and Roger make as much sense as teammates as they do rivals.