The tennis stars are part of Laver Cup’s Team Europe
They have 63 Grand Slam trophies between them and have delivered some of the greatest moments in tennis history. And now tennis fans are about to see the Big Four – Andy Murray, Roger Federer, NovakDjokovic and Rafael Nadal – team up on the court when they compete – not against each other, but as teammates – at this year’s Laver Cup.
Despite being rivals on court, these tennis greats have a friendship that goes beyond Grand Slam competitions. For more than two decades, they’ve not only battled each other on the tennis courts, but also supported each other behind the scenes.
In this exclusive interview with HELLO!, two-time Wimbledon champion Andy delves into his close bond with Rafael and how the Spaniard’s influence over him inspired his move to Spain when he was a teenager.
Serbian champion Novak, 35, admits it’s not easy to be alone on the Grand Slam circuit but since becoming a father, his focus has shifted from being on him and his career to his children.
Fatherhood has also changed Andy who candidly said his defeats feel somewhat easier now. Along with Roger, the trio are ready to support Rafael, 36, who is set to become a first-time father this year.
This much-anticipated tennis tournament will be particularly special after Roger’s announcement last week, that he is retiring from tennis.
Coming together as part of Team Europe, the tennis greats will be joined by Casper Ruud and Stefanos Tsitsipas while Björn Borg will take the helm as Captain and Thomas Enqvist as their Vice Captain.
The sporting legends will face stiff competition from Team World’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz, Diego Schwartzman, Jack Sock, Francis Tiafoe and Alex De Minaur who will be joined by captain John McEnroe and his younger brother Patrick McEnroe as vice-captain.
But despite being rivals on court, these tennis greats have a friendship that goes beyond Grand Slam competitions. For more than two decades, they’ve not only battled each other on the tennis courts, but also supported each other behind the scenes. Ahead of Laver Cup, HELLO! sat down with Andy, Roger and Novak to talk about their friendship as well as their passion for the sport and how fatherhood has changed them.
Even though you’re used to being rivals, have there been moments where you’ve supported each other personally, or relied on each other’s friendship?
Roger: Absolutely. I feel grateful for having the privilege to develop friendships and compete against a multitude of players and coaches during my over 20 years on the tour. Despite the intensity and pressures of matches and tournaments, I make a conscious effort off the court and during practices to connect with other players and support them as much as possible. This connection is another reason that makes the Laver Cup a special experience. The Laver Cup offers a rare opportunity to collaborate as a team and provide each other with professional and personal insights that we would never share in a typical tournament setting.
Novak: I had an opportunity a few years ago to play with Roger in Team Europe and we had lots of fun. It was nice to spend time together without direct competition and I enjoyed it. I respect Roger as a legendary tennis player but also for his family values. Roger kindly supported the work of my charity foundation back then and sat with me as we had a mini event called ‘Breakfast with champions’.
Can it be lonely on the professional tennis circuit as you’re very focussed on solo success?
Roger: Not in my opinion. We all have a common goal to win, but more importantly we understand the locker room dynamics work better as a group for the benefit of the sport which supports us and provides us the opportunities to play and have an impact.
Men often find it harder to talk about the importance of friendships and connection – how important to you is it as a professional tennis player, to have friends you can count on?
Andy: As a professional player you face a lot of pressure and high expectations to get out there and perform as well as dealing with the added layer of being in the public eye which I had to adjust to from the age of 16 – and I didn’t find it easy. That’s why it’s always been important for me to have a supportive group of friends and family around me.
Novak: It’s very important. We travel a lot and most of us travel without families. It is not easy to be alone. That’s why I value my friends and look always for ways to be of service to fellow players. Their friendship has meant a great deal to me particularly when they have publicly supported me during tough times.
What’s it like working as a team rather than as rivals on court?
Roger: Working as a team with my closest rivals is absolutely exhilarating. Playing doubles with Rafa [Rafael Nadal] at the Laver Cup for the first time in Prague was super special. It is always a pleasure and honour to share the court with players like Rafa. And something that I thoroughly enjoy at the same time. The team dynamics combine the competitive intensity alongside a unique energy that allows us to visibly and vocally demonstrate our passion for the sport. Watching Rafa’s emotions on the Team Europe bench looks like he’s at the Bernabéu Stadium supporting Real Madrid and that will fire up anyone.
Andy: I love playing as part of a team. As singles players, we don’t get to do it enough in my opinion and tennis can be a lonely sport at times. I really look forward to competing in team events like the Davis Cup and the Olympics. This is my first time playing at the Laver Cup, I’ve heard good things and I’m looking forward to teaming up with some of my rivals.
Novak: It’s really exciting to be joining Team Europe again. It is one of the few moments where you can play in a team environment with guys that you’re normally competing against and to be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy – three of my biggest all-time rivals – it’s going to be a truly unique moment in our sport.
Being on the same team, do you get to see a different side of each other?
Roger: There’s always a sense of tension and healthy competition on the court and locker room throughout a tournament. When rivals become teammates you see a different side as there is one common goal. We pump each other up. We motivate and support each other in practice. It’s amazing and inspiring to see how much we all care. We are naturally intense competitors, and to have teammates in your corner who understand the challenges better than anyone provides strong motivation to fight for the team.
Roger announced his plans to retire after Laver Cup 2022
Andy: Yes, we’ll all be working hard together to hopefully continue the Team Europe winning streak!
Novak: Being on the same team is quite refreshing because you get to bounce off each other and lift each other up.
Tell us something we’d be surprised to learn about your friendship with another player in your Laver cup team?
Andy: Rafa and I are good friends and we have been since we were young. We’ve grown up in competition together and hearing about his training set-up in Spain was a pivotal moment for me. He was able to practice so much more than me and hitting with Top 100 players when he was 14/15, I knew instantly I would have to change my set-up in the UK, I called my mum that night and told her I’d made my mind up, I was moving to Spain!
If you were to create the ideal player from your respective skills, what would you pick?
Roger: This question is extremely difficult to answer because there are so many dynamics to factor in measuring each skill. For example, there are different types of forehands (defensive, offensive, running, etc) or volleys (transition, set, finishing, etc). On top of this, you factor on the different surfaces and it becomes even harder to decide. I feel this creates the beauty of tennis as there are so many of these skills to work on to perfect your game.
Roger and Novak show off their tennis skills during Laver Cup
Andy: Rafa’s forehand and Novak’s backhand would be a pretty formidable combination. I know John Isner has played for Team World before, he’s got a pretty decent serve, so I’d borrow that as well. Hopefully, my lob might come in handy occasionally.
What are some of the things you guys get up to behind the scenes during major tournaments?
Roger: During major tournaments, our spare time is centred around preparation for every match. We work closely with our teams to make sure we are both physically and mentally positioned as best as possible. Additionally, I like to have the balance of spending time with my friends and family. And when it’s feasible, I like to enjoy and explore the exciting cities where we are fortunate to compete.
Novak Djokovic poses with the Laver Cup tennis ball
Andy: Away from the court I try and relax as much as possible, at a big event you don’t want to be doing too much away from the court. Obviously watching as much of the tennis as I can, I’m also big into my fantasy sports (basketball and football), so I’m usually figuring out my next signings / trash-talking in WhatsApp chat groups. As I’m on the road quite a bit, I check in with the family as much as I can.
Novak: I really enjoy spending time with my kids. I adapt to their needs and for once, I am not a tennis player – but just a dad, and that feels so humbling. And it is quite hard work in fact!
How has fatherhood has changed you?
Roger: Fatherhood has provided me a totally different perspective of my priorities and how I see the world. My children and family are the centre of my life. I feel grateful for the experiences we can share and learn together. It is rewarding to create and develop our home life alongside the exciting opportunities we get to share when we travel to amazing places and spend time with amazing people.
This will be Andy’s first Laver Cup
Andy: It changed a lot for me because before being a father, tennis was the most important thing. I would also get really down after every loss. As I’ve got older I’ve managed to find a better balance. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate to lose, but the lows of losing don’t last as long as my children soon help me snap out of it.
Novak: The change that fatherhood has brought to me is constant and ongoing. As they grow, I grow. We learn together. Before them, all the focus of the family was on me and my career. As they came into our life that focus has shifted on to them and I think it is the best thing that has happened to me. It has helped me appreciate more everything I do and have – especially time. All of my free time is going towards them. I think my heart grew in size too!
Since Rafael is about to become a first-time dad, are there any words of advice you can offer?
Roger: Embrace the moment. While you will always savour your Grand Slam wins and professional accomplishments, you will soon experience new emotions and celebrations on a greater level than you ever imagined through your family.
Roger with Rafael’s friendship goes back several years
Andy: Get your sleep in now! It’s an amazing time in his life, he’s a relaxed and calm person, so he’ll be fine. I’ve found you need lots of patience, but it’s the best thing in the world and you can’t imagine your life without them.
Novak: Just to keep an open mind and grow with the little one. So much we can learn from them! What a joy that journey is, I am looking forward to see Rafa and Xisca in their parenting role. Big congratulations from me and my family again!
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