There was drama, disappointment and delight on the third and final day of the Laver Cup in Geneva, as Team Europe pipped Team World at the post to win the trophy for a third year in a row.
I've had an amazing time playing at the Laver Cup and I'm so disappointed I'm not able to play again today, but I have some inflammation in my hand and I need to rest. Rafa Nadal
With Rafael Nadal forced out with a hand injury at the start of Sunday and Roger Federer suffering a doubles defeat, it looked as though John McEnroe’s Team World would take the title, but after Federer beat John Isner, Germany’s Zverev kept his cool in an electrifying atmosphere to beat Milos Raonic, 6-4 3-6 [10-4].
It gave Europe a 13-11 overall win and sparked wild celebrations with captain Bjorn Borg, Federer and Nadal racing on to the charcoal-coloured court to swamp Zverev.
It all started out rather differently with Team Europe in the lead, 7-5, and Federer & Nadal scheduled to open the final day’s play.
It would have been just the second time in their storied careers that the tennis legends played on the same side of the net, but Nadal left everyone feeling a bit flat when he was forced to withdraw from his final two matches – the other a singles showdown with Nick Kyrgios.
“I’ve had an amazing time playing at the Laver Cup and I’m so disappointed I’m not able to play again today, but I have some inflammation in my hand and I need to rest,” Nadal said in a statement.
“The atmosphere has been amazing in Geneva and of course I’m going to be there, court-side today, for all my teammates and do everything I can to support them and help Team Europe win the Laver Cup.”
While fans understood that Nadal wouldn’t want to risk further injury, they were left raging at the decision to have him play four matches in a row.
The World No 2 played a singles match against Milos Raonic, then teamed with Tsitsipas for a doubles clash with Kyrgios & Jack Sock on Saturday, and was scheduled to play the first two matches on Sunday, which evidently proved too much for the Spaniard.
Fans felt the scheduling should have been done differently to have Federer & Nadal’s doubles match earlier in the event.
Some took to social media bemoaning the fact they had paid good money for tickets just to see a ‘Fedal’ doubles match.
Instead, Federer pair up with Stefanos Tsitsipas and were beaten by John Isner & Sock, 5-7 6-4 [10-8], giving Team World the lead for the first time at the Laver Cup.
The American duo took their Laver Cup record to 3-0 as they collected 3 priceless points for the red team.
Having trailed 7-3 at one stage on Day 2, Team World moved 8-7 ahead with three matches to follow and a target of 13 points to take the trophy for the first time.
“It feels great, the energy’s amazing and we’ve got a lead,” said Team World Captain John McEnroe.
In the doubles, it was the Tsitsipas serve that faltered first, a Sock return winner setting up 2 break points before a loose Federer volley gave World a 2-1 lead.
The lead lasted just one game, however, as Isner’s serve was broken to level things up and it looked to be heading for a tiebreak until Europe made the decisive breakthrough in game 12.
An instinctive reactive volley from Isner early in the second set changed the momentum, a lone break enough to give World the second set, albeit after a dramatic final game that saw Europe miss chances to break back.
The match tiebreak was a rollercoaster affair, with World making the key move with 4 straight points to go 7-4 clear.
Federer saved the first match point with a volley, but Tsitsipas could not control a big Isner serve on the second and Team World could celebrate another doubles success.
Team World was just one win from a first Laver Cup victory after Taylor Fritz stepped off the bench as a replacement for Nick Kyrgios, who withdrew due to a shoulder problem, to beat Dominic Thiem, Nadal’s substitute.
The American, ranked No 30, fought past the World No 5 in a thrilling 7-5 6-7(3) [10-5] victory to leave the World 11-7 up on Europe.
With 3 points for a win on the final day, Isner could secure overall victory for World in the following singles match, although he had to overcome 20-time Grand Slam champion, and local hero, Federer.
“We’ve been battling ever since this Laver Cup started,” said McEnroe.
“Expect the unexpected – here we are now, one more and we got this thing.”
The two players, Fritz and Thiem, had not expected to be involved but got thrust into the singles spotlight and stepped up to the plate in some style.
The injured Nadal and Kyrgios remained court-side offering support and advice as Thiem and Fritz battled it out at Palexpo, eventually needing a match tiebreak to sort it all out.
Fritz began the brighter, getting an early break with a deft drop shot to take the first set and pushing hard early in the second.
It took a huge effort from Thiem to hold off the American from 0-40 down in the second and, by the time the tiebreak came round, the Austrian finally clicked into gear.
Rasping winners and a pumped-up blue bench suggested Thiem might ride the wave all the way through the following match tiebreak, but it was a credit to Fritz that he managed to wrestle back control.
The 21-year-old American’s huge forehand began to dominate, helping him stretch away to 6-2 and again proving too much for Thiem on match point.
“That was such a big match for Team World to win, we really needed that,” said Fritz.
“Now we’re 4 points in the lead, one match from the win. It was so crucial.
“This has to be one of the biggest wins of my career. It means so much more when you’re playing for other people as well.”
The Laver Cup was coming down to the wire as Federer lined up to take on the big-serving Isner, and the Swiss ensured the destiny of the trophy would hinge on the final match as he defeated the American in front of passionate home support.
Federer knew the Laver Cup was on the line when he stepped out in front of the 17,000 expectant fans, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion well and truly delivered.
Up against one of the biggest servers in the game, the Swiss was focused from the outset.
Quickly up 0-40 in the 5th game, Federer broke for a 3-2 lead with a forehand winner and was never troubled in seeing out the set.
Isner held on when the pressure came midway through the second set, firing down a second-serve ace on one break point as he took it to a tiebreak.
With serve dominating and the margins desperately fine, Federer made the breakthrough with a return winner for 5-3 and served his way to victory.
“I’m very excited,” said Federer. “What an atmosphere, what a match.
“I’m thrilled that I was able to give something back to the team. Obviously to see Rafa on the sidelines after having to pull out with an injury, it’s great camaraderie I feel.”
The Swiss won 6-4 7-6(3) for Team Europe to cut the deficit down to just one point, with Team World now up 11-10 heading into the last match.
Federer’s teammate Alexander Zverev was next up, taking on Raonic with 3 points on offer, guaranteeing the winner secured the required 13 points for overall victory.
“He’s a great player, good guy, confident exactly the right amount,” Federer said of Zverev. “That’s what we need in a final in a match.
“All the matches have been so close. I’m sure this one is going to go to the wire too, but we’re ready to go.”
McEnroe said: “Everybody’s pumped up and if you told me a week ago it was going to be 11-10, I’d have taken it.”
After Federer’s stunning comeback, Zverev snatched the Laver Cup for Team Europe by the narrowest of margins in the thrilling concluding rubber.
The young German has been struggling with his confidence of late, failing to close out tight matches, but with Federer and Nadal in his ear, Zverev produced his best to secure the decisive points needed, prevailing 6-4 3-6 [10-4].
Zverev had the Laver Cup experience, having clinched the trophy for Europe 12 months ago with victory over Kevin Anderson, and he impressed again early on.
A barrage of heavy forehands helped him break for 4-3 and the opening set was wrapped up in 34 minutes.
With the finish line in sight, the nerves began to take hold and a poor service game allowed Raonic back into the contest at 4-2.
The Canadian had to hold his own nerve in the face of 3 break points but eventually served out the set, bringing everything down to the match tiebreak.
It was the Zverev backhand that dominated as he opened with a cross-court winner and extended his lead to 7-3 with another searing winner off that side.
A third superb backhand brought up match point, and Team World’s challenge was ended when Zverev fired a forehand winner past Raonic before falling backwards onto the black court in celebration.
Zverev was quickly engulfed on the black court by a blue wave of teammates rushing to celebrate with him, while 17,000 raucous fans packed into Palexpo revelled in the home side’s success.
“It was an unbelievable weekend,” Zverev said.
“My team was screaming at me in the locker room before the match tiebreak, saying this is how I could turn my season around.
“Without all of these guys on the bench, I couldn’t have done it. This is very special, especially playing in front of those guys and having them trust me to play the last match.”
“I’ve never played in something like that, it was unbelievable,” he added.
“It’s very special, especially playing in front of those guys and them trusting me to play the last singles game. This event is something I hope to play in every single year of my career.”
An emotional Federer paid tribute to the Swiss crowd.
“Congratulations Team World on an unbelievable fight, I can’t wait for the next one in Boston. For us, so many emotions. It’s been an unbelievable rollercoaster.
“Bjorn, you’re a great captain, and Rocket [Rod Laver], thanks for being here today. It makes it more special.
“It’s been a dream weekend for me to be playing in Switzerland. Thank you for all the noise you’ve made, I’ve loved every moment.”
Europe, led by Captain Bjorn Borg, has now won all three editions of the Laver Cup – in Prague two years ago, Chicago last year and now Geneva.
“Team World came once again very close but we won the right points and had maybe a little bit of luck,” said Borg.
“I’m very proud of my team, they did a hell of a job. I’m a very happy captain.”
Team World Captain McEnroe said: “I want to congratulate Team Europe, it was awesome – I’m getting very sick and tired of you.
“I’m so proud to be the captain of this team, they fought their hearts out. World, you guys are awesome.”
The event, sanctioned by the men’s ATP tour for the first time this year, will be staged in Boston in 2020 with the two legends Borg and McEnroe continuing in their role as Laver Cup team captains.
Rivals as professionals when they ruled the tennis stage in the 1970s and ‘80s, Borg and McEnroe have imprinted their distinctive style on the competition, steering their teams in pursuit of the coveted Laver Cup trophy, named in honour of another tennis legend, Rod Laver, whom they both revere.
Borg, famed for his ice cool demeanour in contrast to the mercurial McEnroe, said the event had captivated sports fans worldwide.
“I just love this event and all that it represents, it’s the best week of the year,” the 11-time major winner declared.
“The Laver Cup is a highlight of my year,” said McEnroe, winner of 7 major singles titles and World No 1 for 170 weeks at the height of his career.
“It encapsulates everything that is great about tennis: the best players, striving to win for their team in a format that has fans jumping out of their seats.”
The Laver Cup next heads to Boston, one of the greatest sports cities in the world, where it will be held at the famous TD Garden from 25-27 September, 2020.
Sports fans worldwide keenly follow several major league sports teams from the Massachusetts’ capital including the Boston Bruins [ice hockey], Boston Celtics [basketball], Boston Red Sox [baseball] and the New England Patriots [football].
Now tennis will add a new dimension to Boston’s incredible sports reputation.
“Boston is the perfect setting for the Laver Cup,” said Tony Godsick, CEO of TEAM8 and Chairman of the Laver Cup.
“The city has a deep sporting culture, but it is also steeped in profound historical events, all of which resonate with the values of the Laver Cup and its tribute to the rich heritage of tennis.
“The Laver Cup is like nothing else in world tennis. Over one amazing weekend we bring together the greatest current players as teammates, as well as great legends and rivals from previous generations.”
TD Garden is New England’s largest sports and entertainment arena and hosts more than 3.5 million people a year at its world-renowned concerts and sporting events.
The state-of-the art venue features a 19,600-seat arena, multi-million-dollar high definition video scoreboard, redesigned concourses and 360-degree LED technology.
“TD Garden is a haven for sports fans,” said Laver Cup CEO, Steve Zacks.
“The arena is close to completing a more than $100 million expansion plan and nothing is being spared to create the ultimate fan experience. We can’t wait to bring the Laver Cup to this spectacular venue.”
Since its debut at Prague in 2017, the Laver Cup has been staged at Chicago in 2018 and Geneva, Switzerland in 2019, with the host city alternating between Europe and the rest of the world.
Boston is embedded into the magnificent Laver Cup trophy itself, with molten metal from the US Pro Tennis Championships trophy in Boston, won by Rod Laver, incorporated into the now iconic cup.
“I’m delighted to see the fourth instalment of the Laver Cup will be in Boston,” said Laver, a long-time resident of Carlsbad in California.
“It’s a wonderful city steeped in history, sports and culture. I can’t wait to get back there for the Laver Cup, it’s sure to be another memorable chapter in this event’s remarkable evolution.”