Vancouver will play host to next year’s Laver Cup, the premier indoor hard-court exhibition tournament headlined and created by Roger Federer, in a move that organizers said was in part a testament to the growing strength of Canada as a tennis nation.
The tournament, which pits six of the top men’s players from Europe against six from the rest of the world in a team format inspired by golf’s Ryder Cup, will take place at Rogers Arena from Sept. 22-24, 2023. Organizers were set to announce the decision, as well as the choice of Berlin to host the 2024 edition, early Wednesday morning. They spoke with The Globe and Mail on Tuesday.
“It’s a showcase for the city,” said Steve Zacks, chief executive of the Laver Cup. “Years from now, when people are talking about the Laver Cup in 2023, they’ll remember it was in Vancouver.
“The city becomes a hero, not just the event itself.”
The tournament, which launched in 2017 in Prague, is a slick showcase of singles and doubles matches that unfolds over five sessions on a black court before a crowd bathed in moody lighting.
Zacks said that more than 40 cities bid for the right to play host to the event, which is staged in alternate years in a European city and a city outside of Europe. He would not disclose the price paid by the local bid committee, but insisted other factors – including the city’s international orientation, its apparent base of eager tennis fans, and the venue’s technical readiness – were more significant in helping the city stand out. He added: “I can definitely say the amount of spending and tax dollars that will go back to Vancouver will surpass their commitment.”
Federer helped create the event, in which some of the game’s greatest former players coach and kibitz with many of the best on the ATP Tour, to honour the Australian tennis legend Rod Laver. Players revel in the opportunity to spend a weekend as teammates with their customary rivals, and to soak in the wisdom of the older generation, including Laver himself, who has attended all of the editions so far.
“The hope is that it inspires the next generation of tennis players – not just ones that might go on to play professional tennis, but also ones that might just grab a racquet and play in school or play with their friends,” said Tony Godsick, the chair of the Laver Cup and chief executive of TEAM8, the management company that handles Federer’s business affairs.
He added that he believes the tournament could spur interest among the WTA and ATP tours to stage future events in cities such as Vancouver, or Boston, which hosted last year’s edition. “Maybe it stimulates more tennis more regularly in those markets,” he said.
Vancouver’s tennis history includes at least two appearances by Laver, who won the singles championship of the now-defunct Vancouver WCT in 1970 as well as the doubles championship with fellow Aussie Roy Emerson in 1970 and 1971. In fact, during the bid process, Mark Roberts, the chief executive of Tennis BC, dug up a photograph of himself as a 10-year-old when he served as a ball boy for Laver, who dropped by the Stanley Park courts during one of those tournaments.
The courts are home to the Stanley Park Open, a public event that celebrates its 90th anniversary next month.
Michelle Collens, the senior manager of Sport Hosting Vancouver, which oversaw the bid, said anecdotes like that, which drew a direct line between Laver and the accessibility of tennis in Vancouver, helped the city stand out.
“That was our X-factor.”
She said the Laver Cup would “help launch our economic recovery plan” out of the pandemic, positioning the city to welcome the world again for marquee sporting events such as the 2025 Invictus Games and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Collens noted that municipal funding for the Laver Cup would come from a sport tourism development fund, which is capped at a total of $500,000 and covers all events in the agency’s portfolio.
This year’s Laver Cup will be held at the O2 Arena in London. The players are still being chosen, but last week Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime was named to Team World along with Taylor Fritz of the U.S. and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. They will be captained by John McEnroe. So far, Federer and Rafael Nadal have been named to Team Europe, which will be captained by Bjorn Borg.
Team Europe has won all four editions since the tournament launched. (The 2020 edition in Boston was rescheduled for 2021.)
There is no guarantee any Canadians will be on Team World in 2023. Still, added Godsick, “I personally hope that both Denis [Shapovalov] and Félix are doing amazing and qualify, or are picked, because you know they’re both incredible players. And hopefully by then maybe there’s more [Canadians], but those two have been Laver Cup participants, and they’re on the fast track to being tennis superstars. So, the more the merrier.”
He acknowledged there’s no way to predict whether Federer, who is recovering from knee surgery, would play in Vancouver.
“I think he’s taking it year by year and just focusing on getting ready for this year,” he said. “But he will never just go out to play just to be a part of it. It’s a competitive event, and the players take it so seriously, and they’re playing in front of their peers and it’s very competitive. So he will only play if he feels like he can – or if the captain feels like he can – add value to the team.”