The Laver Cup took off on Friday at the United Center in Chicago with Britain’s Kyle Edmund giving a good account of himself on behalf of Team Europe.
You look around the locker room and there is world class quality everywhere so for me, at 23-years old, to be involved in something like this is amazing. Kyle Edmund
Edmund, returning from a break recovering from injury and tonsillitis, beat Team World’s Jack Sock, 6-4 5-7 [10-6], in an encounter he pretty much always looked like winning despite dropping the second set.
The two had played twice before and it took an hour and 41 minutes for Edmund to prevail in securing the second point of the day for Europe.
Sock came out to warm up wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey over his shirt and set the crowd alight in levelling to force the match tiebreak, with both winning 70 points after serving at 68% and earning a break each side off two break chances.
Both players found the rhythm early on, with nine easy holds, before Edmund earned a break in game 10 when Sock netted a forehand to claim the opener 6-4.
The American saved a break point at 2-3 in the second, and he played better in the closing stages, missing a break point in the 9th game after a forehand winner from Edmund, but breaking the Briton at 5-5 with a great backhand to serve for the set in the following game.
Sock brought the game home to love to take the set 7-5, but Edmund then raced to a 7-2 lead in the 10-point match tiebreak that is used in the Laver Cup when the first two sets are split, winning all 5 points on serve and taking mini-breaks on the third and the seventh points.
Serving at 9-6, Kyle fired a forehand cross-court winner to secure the win and push his team further in front before the remaining two matches of the day.
“You look around the locker room and there is world class quality everywhere so for me, at 23-years old, to be involved in something like this is amazing,” said Edmund.
“The opportunity came and it was a very quick decision for me so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as possible.
“I felt I was controlling my game in the first set. The margins are very small, and the second set got away from me, so I just tried to be aggressive in the tiebreak,” he added.
This is the second instalment of the Laver Cup, which has been dubbed the Ryder Cup of tennis but has yet to establish the tradition of golf’s premier team event.
The event is named in honour of tennis legend Rod Laver, who won a record 200 singles titles, 11 Grand Slams and 5 Davis Cups for Australia.
This year’s competition is taking place on US soil for the first time and features 12 of the world’s top players squaring off against each other in a three-day showcase, which wraps up on Sunday in Chicago.
The format calls for shorter matches so, if the players split sets, they go straight to a 10-point tiebreak.
In fact, Team Europe won the first three matches on Day 1, with David Goffin edging out Diego Schwartzman and Grigor Dimitrov downing Frances Tiafoe, a late replacement for Juan Martin del Potro on Team World.
The 20-year-old American played in the Davis Cup semi-finals last weekend in Croatia, losing the deciding match in five sets to Borna Coric.
He played much tougher in the second set on Friday against the Bulgarian, getting a service break for 4-4 before Dimitrov broke back and served out the victory, 6-1 6-4, in a match that featured extended baseline rallies.
Dimitrov used his precision backhand to keep Tiafoe off balance as he closed out the match with his 10th and final ace, having hammered 27 winners to just 7 for Tiafoe.
“It’s pretty nice to play indoors – no sun, no wind,” Dimitrov said. “When you get in a good rhythm you just want to follow it. I think today that’s what I did.”
Bjorn Borg’s favoured Team Europe are trying to defend their crown against Team World, which is captained by the legendary John McEnroe.
Belgium’s David Goffin added to Europe’s lead as he beat Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, 6-4 4-6 [11-9]
Schwartzman had looked to threaten Europe’s lead with a second-set comeback, and dug deep at 5-1 down in the last to level at 7-7, but Goffin remained calm on his first match point to cheers and hugs from his team-mates and captain Bjorn Borg.
In the last match of the day, the headline doubles pairing of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, together for the first time in their careers, ended in Team World’s first win.
“It’s been a wonderful start for us,” said Federer before the match. “Both Grigor and Kyle played amazing tennis and I think this court allows any type of player to shine – it can pay off.
“I know me and Novak need to be well prepared for tonight’s doubles because Jack and Kevin [Anderson] can play extremely well.
“I feel that they’re actually favourites for all three doubles matches. What a thrill it’s going to be playing doubles with Novak.”
While Federer and Novak Djokovic looked quite comfortable playing together, the pairing of Sock with Anderson saw them off, 6-7 6-3 [10-6].
Excitement had been building since the announcement that the former World No 1s would team up for Europe.
Djokovic and Federer last played against each other in the Cincinnati final on 19 August when the Serb won in straight sets to claim all nine ATP Masters 1000 events for the first time the series started in 1990, but the stars had never played on the same side of the net before Friday night at the United Center.
Federer, playing with a red racket [Wilson’s special edition Laver Cup Pro Staff RF97], took the forehand side and Djokovic the backhand against the hard-serving Anderson and doubles specialist Sock, and it took a while for the Team Europe pair to settle into the four-man format.
In the third game, the current US Open champion accidentally struck his partner with a forehand into the lower back, covering his mouth with his left hand and leaning over after the ball bounced off Federer.
The Serbian and Swiss both laughed off the incident to the amusement of the crowd and went on to clinch the first-set tie-break, 7/5.
”I apologised right away,” Djokovic said. ”It didn’t look that great.”
Fortunately Federer didn’t seem to mind too much: ”To team up with somebody of his caliber is just a treat you know,” he said.
Their opponents found their rhythm, taking the second set 6-3, with Sock’s experience as a three-time doubles major champion shining through on some impressive volley interceptions, and Anderson slamming down his strong serve.
The foursome went toe-to-toe in the early stages of the match tiebreak but, having seen their team-mates lose in two deciders earlier in the day, Sock and Anderson made sure not to waste their opportunity when Federer doubled-faulted at 4-4.
An impressive return winner from Sock sealed the deal, 10-6, giving captain John McEnroe a little relief ahead of Day 2.
”It was a lot of fun. I want to thank Roger for playing with me,” Djokovic said later. ”I loved it. Obviously, I wanted to win as much as Roger. But those guys came up with some big shots.”
According to Sky Sports pundit, Mark Petchey, the two may only link up if the Laver Cup goes into a deciding match on Sunday.
“Roger won the gold medal at the Olympics. Novak has won just won doubles title – he doesn’t play a lot of doubles,” Petchey said.
“I’m sure from both players’ point of view, this is something very different. They’ve been there, done that, on everything. Now this is a very unique occasion.
“I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen on the ATP Tour. It obviously hasn’t happened for Rafa [Nadal] and Roger since last year.
“This maybe the only time they step on court unless we get a deciding doubles.”
Team Europe lead 3-1 with two points per match up for grabs on Day 2.