On Wednesday morning, five tennis legends – Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – sat down at the St. Regis Hotel in New York to discuss an exciting new annual tournament, the Rod Laver Cup. Together, the players on stage had accumulated a total of 60 Grand Slam titles and four Olympic medals.
Similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, the Laver Cup will pit six of the best European tennis players against the same number of stars from elsewhere in the world. The tournament will include both singles and doubles matches.
Sweden’s Borg, who won 11 Grand Slam titles between 1974 and 1981, will coach the European team; the United States’ John McEnroe, Borg’s rival and a seven-time Grand Slam winner, will lead the other team.
Nadal and Federer have already committed to the event, which is set to debut September 22nd, 2017 in Prague, the Czech Republic.
At the New York-based press conference, Federer and Nadal touched on a number of subjects, from their childhood memories of Laver to their predictions concerning the US Open – which begins Monday, August 29.
But they also reflected on their Olympic experiences and their thoughts on the Rio 2016 Games.
At the most recent Olympics, Nadal won gold in men’s doubles alongside compatriot and childhood friend Marc Lopez. He just missed out on a medal in men’s singles, losing to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the semifinals and then Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the Bronze Medal Match.
It was the Spaniard’s second Olympic medal, having won gold in men’s singles at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“It was a very important event, especially after what happened with my wrist,” Nadal said during a panel discussion moderated by Bill Macatee. “I didn’t have the chance to practice much before the Olympics starts. So right then, to have a chance to win a gold in doubles – especially with one of my best friends like Marc – very, very special for me. Unforgettable moments as much for me as for him … I was very happy the way I competed in Rio in all aspects.”
He added: “You go to the Olympics, and finally you win a medal, it’s just the most important thing you can do.”
But while Nadal won big in Rio, Federer missed the Games due to a nagging injury sustained in January. While with his family, Federer twisted his knee and suffered a torn meniscus.
The 17-time Grand Slam winner took several months off from professional tennis, but returned to London’s Wimbledon Championships in July, where he reached the semifinals. However, the Swiss suffered an unfortunate fall during his semifinal match against Canada’s top ten-ranked Milos Raonic, which required immediate medical attention.
Shortly before the Rio Olympics, Federer announced he would not participate in the Games – nor would he compete for the rest of the 2016 season. But he still managed to follow all the action in Brazil, even finding himself enamored with a sport other than his own.
“For some reason, I watched a lot of volleyball,” Federer said at Wednesday’s press conference. “I guess it depends on when you tune in, what event is on.”
Reflecting on his own Olympic experiences, Federer smiled.
“Medals were a significant part of my life,” said Federer, who – aside from Rio – has played at every Games since Sydney 2000. (Though he didn’t earn a medal at that tournament, he did meet his wife, Mirka.) “It’s really representing your country, and I enjoy that in a big way. Winning the gold in Beijing in doubles was a huge surprise to me, I think equally what it was to Rafa this year. And I went on to win the US Open, so I wish Rafa all the best – that he can do the same.”
In addition to doubles gold at Beijing 2008, Federer took home singles silver at the London 2012 Games after falling to Great Britain’s Andy Murray in the final.
“It was just unbelievable to do that,” Federer said. “You had that combination of the Olympics being held at Wimbledon. It was just so crazy … Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish it off against Murray, but he deserved it. He had a great reaction after his loss in the Wimbledon finals [in 2012], so for me that was like gold.”
When asked whether he would participate in tennis’ singles or doubles competitions at the Tokyo 2020 Games, Federer declined to comment. But regardless of whether Federer makes an appearance in Japan, the Swiss star clearly holds the Olympics close to his heart.
“There’s a lot of memories that come out of the Olympics,” Federer said. “I’ve always enjoyed them.”