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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Friday September 22, 2023

Felix Auger-Aliassime

Gael Monfils was thinking exhibition. Felix Auger-Aliassime was thinking win. And a weird moment ensued as the pair clashed on Friday at Laver Cup.

Photo Source: Getty

The serious nature of Laver Cup as a winner-take-all competition with a reputation for intensity and team spirit was put to the test on Friday night in Vancouver, as Gael Monfils attempted to play with more of an exhibition mindset.

Tennis Express

Felix Auger-Aliassime, who ended up defeating Monfils in straight sets, wasn’t having it.

The Canadian stuck up for himself and asked the umpire to intervene when he felt that Monfils was taking liberties. When he did, the Frenchman became upset, and eventually conducted an in-person chat with Auger-Aliassime during a changeover, as he tried to clear the air and get on the same page as the Canadian.

For his part, Auger-Aliassime continued on his course, put forth a solid effort (6-4, 6-3), and gave Team World a 3-0 lead, before Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe finished the night with a victory over Andrey Rublev and Arthur Fils to expand the lead to 4-0 after one day of play at Laver Cup.

During his post-match press conference Auger-Aliassime explained his stance.

“Look, it's competition,” he said. “Things got a little bit heated in the moment, a bit of tension. I was just kind of talking to the referees, talking to him about what rules he was applying, I guess, between the rules we're used to in tournaments or different rules.”

The 22-year-old said he believes Laver Cup is a serious competition.

“Because I came in thinking... I have played this tournament and I think everybody involved, not just myself, we all believed that Laver Cup is a tournament that I think has the potential to be taken very seriously, not just now but also in the future, so we're taking this seriously.”

Based on his on-court conversations, Monfils believes otherwise.

“They called me and told me ‘It’s so nice, you can be free,’' Monfils told Team Europe vice-captain Tomas Enqvist on court. “I don’t know… me I’m here to have fun.”

Now, the ground rules have been set.

“Gael Monfils is great for tennis,” Team World Vice-Captain Patrick McEnroe told reporters after the match. “I have been lucky enough to be involved in this competition since it started every single match. I have never seen one match that the guys didn't give 110 percent and still play with a certain fun, because it's a team aspect, and play to the crowd a little bit. That's awesome. We need that in tennis.

“At the same time, you know, all these guys are pros… I have never ever once thought that this is an exhibition, ever. I have never seen one player, and all the all-time greats have been in this competition, I have never seen one of them play like it was an exhibition for one point.”

As the event searches to maintain its identity with none of the Big Three or the Top-5 competing this weekend in Vancouver, the mix-up is an indication of the challenges that Laver Cup will face moving forward. How to keep fans engaged? Who to select for the teams? Is it a competition created for fun, lively on court moments, or a serious competition between Team World and Team Europe?

The line has been drawn in the sand by Auger-Aliassime and his teammates. Unfortunately the awkward drama of his clash with Monfils was the most interesting on-court part of a Day One that was light on intensity and viral moments.

After Team World finished off its sweep on Friday, Roger Federer did an on-court interview with Jim Courier – another highlight. Even retired, Federer remains the biggest draw for the event, and his future captaincy could be the thing that keeps it humming along.

In the meantime, the players need to decide if they are there for fun or there to win.


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