Coming into this 12 months’s U.S. Open, Ben Shelton felt that he had one thing to show. Nevertheless it didn’t have something to do with the ultimate main championship of the 12 months, the place he reached the semifinals earlier than falling to the eventual winner, Novak Djokovic.
As an alternative, Shelton thought he needed to justify his inclusion on the six-man Staff World within the Laver Cup, an elite competitors that begins Friday at Rogers Area in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“When the announcement first got here out, I noticed all these feedback on Instagram, like, ‘Why did you are taking him? Why? Why this man? There’s so many higher-ranked gamers,’” stated Shelton, who entered the U.S. Open at No. 47 on the earth however is now No. 19 due to his semifinal end in New York. “I needed to point out people who perhaps I deserved to be on the group.”
The Laver Cup started in Prague in 2017 and trades continents annually between Europe and North America. Staff Europe, captained by Bjorn Borg, who gained 11 majors, options Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz, Gaël Monfils, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Arthur Fils. John McEnroe, who gained seven main singles titles, is captain of Staff World. His gamers are Shelton, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Francisco Cerundolo.
Final 12 months’s occasion in London was noteworthy as a result of it featured Roger Federer’s ultimate match earlier than retirement. His best rivals, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, all confirmed as much as honor him. His final match, a doubles loss together with his teammate Nadal to Tiafoe and Jack Sock, was a tearful tribute to the 20-time main champion.
This 12 months’s Laver Cup represents a generational shift within the sport. Federer has retired, and Nadal, 37, has not performed an ATP match for the reason that Australian Open in January due to accidents.
Murray, at age 36, just isn’t the participant he was when he captured the U.S. Open in 2012, Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, and have become world No. 1 in 2016. And Djokovic, who gained his twenty fourth main on the U.S. Open lower than two weeks in the past and is the present No. 1, is specializing in successful one other main.
“The tip of an period heralds the start of a brand new one,” stated Rod Laver — the participant for whom the competitors is called — who was a part of his personal technology’s rivalries with Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe and Jan Kodes, amongst others. “Right now’s main youthful gamers are jockeying for pole place, and we’ll get to see them competing in a group setting in Vancouver, which weaves the eras collectively.”
McEnroe, who had his personal spirited rivalries with Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl all through the Seventies and ’80s, lamented that the Laver Cup had not generated the identical enchantment among the many gamers because the Ryder Cup, the group occasion in golf.
“The objective was to make it like golf’s Ryder Cup, the place everybody was ready till the final minute to see who was hottest, however everybody was accessible,” McEnroe stated. “It doesn’t appear to be the case now. It’s harder to get everybody dedicated.”
Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champ and world No. 2, has declined to play, as has the U.S. Open runner-up and the world No. 3, Daniil Medvedev. However six of the subsequent 11 ranked gamers are competing this 12 months, and three others, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur, have performed prior to now.
This 12 months, Staff Europe will play with out its highly effective core of Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Alcaraz and Medvedev. Winners in every of the primary 4 years, the Europeans misplaced on the final day final 12 months when Staff World’s Auger-Aliassime beat Djokovic and Tiafoe outlasted Tsitsipas.
Paul, who beat Alcaraz in a event in Canada this summer season however then misplaced to Shelton on the U.S. Open, stated he was keenly conscious of the void left by the Large 4.
“It’s positively an enormous loss for tennis typically, not simply Laver Cup,” he stated. “It clearly provides us a fairly good alternative.”
Fritz, who final 12 months gained his solely Laver Cup singles match, acknowledged the generational shift.
“I believe occasions are positively altering,” stated Fritz, who’s the top-ranked American at No. 8. “It’s going to be a very completely different Laver Cup this 12 months with how Staff Europe is made up.”
Tiafoe, who misplaced within the U.S. Open quarterfinals to Shelton, agreed.
“Yeah, it’s generational,” Tiafoe stated in the course of the Open. “I believe the followers are going to understand the brand new faces. Tennis is at a terrific place; the extent is getting higher and higher.”
Earlier than he first performed in 2021, Rublev was skeptical of the occasion, which awards no ATP rating factors.
“After I was watching on TV, I used to be pondering, the way in which they’re so excited, it’s not actual,” he stated. “However whenever you get there, you wish to win. You get with the group, you begin to really feel the assist, and also you don’t wish to allow them to down.”
Fritz can be conscious of the camaraderie of the group competitors that’s so uncommon in tennis. Final 12 months, members of Staff Europe watched a doubles apply session between Federer and Nadal and Murray and Djokovic. Each groups sat intently on the sidelines throughout every match, cheering and giving teaching recommendation.
In tennis, whenever you win, Fritz stated in the course of the U.S. Open, “you don’t actually have individuals to have a good time with and have enjoyable with. Profitable final 12 months, I felt like that was one of many prime moments of my tennis profession as a result of we have been capable of have a good time with a bunch of my shut mates.”
Seismic actions in tennis are nothing new. After Laver and his rivals, and Borg-McEnroe-Connors-Lendl, got here Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. Every time an period ends, there are those that really feel that there can by no means be one as nice.
Then got here Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. And now Alcaraz has emerged to problem Djokovic, as produce other proficient younger gamers.
Shelton, who turns 21 subsequent month, is certainly one of them. A former participant on the College of Florida, he helped the Gators to the 2021 N.C.A.A. group championship. He then gained the N.C.A.A. singles title the subsequent 12 months earlier than leaving faculty and turning professional final 12 months.
On the Open this 12 months, Shelton grew to become the youngest American man to achieve the semifinals since Chang did in 1992. For Shelton, the Laver Cup has a particular attraction.
“I’m fairly pumped to be within the group ambiance,” he stated on the U.S. Open. “First group competitors I’ve been a part of since I left faculty. I’m going to be simply as amped and emotional in Vancouver as I used to be right here.”