Team World won the Laver Cup for the first time, defeating Team Europe in a huge upset on Roger Federer’s final involvement in competitive tennis. The rest of the world side produced an extremely unexpected clean sweep of all three rubbers played on the last day at the O2 Arena in London to secure a dramatic comeback victory by 13 points to 8.
o do it here in Laver Cup, win for the first time, how bad Mac wanted it, how bad everybody else wanted it, seeing what Felix did and Jack, I thought it was just time. It was time to get it done Frances Tiafoe
The heroes of the unlikely Team World success were the Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime along with the Americans Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe, as well as the non-playing captain, John McEnroe, whose creative strategies worked exceptionally well over the three days of competition, with his players superiority in the doubles ultimately proving crucial.
In contrast to his opposing captain and legendary rival, Bjorn Borg, McEnroe picked a doubles specialist in Sock and was rewarded with two wins from the three doubles rubbers. Sock and Auger-Aliassime vitally turned the momentum of the contest in favour of Team World with an unscripted recovery in the opening doubles on the final day to beat Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray 2-6 6-3 10-8.
Auger-Aliassime then kept the impetus from the doubles going into the singles to take advantage of an injured Novak Djokovic for a 6-3 7-6(3) success, which took Team World into the overall lead for the first time this week. Tiafoe completed the triumph by overcoming Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6 7-6(11) 10-8, collapsing onto his back on the court at the conclusion, with his arms outstretched.
There was immense delight among his team-mates for Tiafoe being the one to claim the winning points, as he has been a focal figure in the Team World locker-room throughout this staging of the Laver Cup. Following his run to the semi-finals at the US Open, the best result of his career to date, it has been a remarkable September for the 24-year-old from Maryland.
At the US Open, Tiafoe famously won all 8 of the tie-breaks he played – and he continued that incredible run at the Laver Cup, securing 4 out of 4 in London. Because of the deciding match tie-break format being used after two sets at this event, he found himself having to produce the rare accomplishment of winning back-to-back tie-breaks twice for victories in vital rubbers during the three days.
Moreover, Tiafoe’s double-tie-break feats came in the two most high-profile matches of the 2022 Laver Cup – ending Federer’s tennis career when partnering Sock to defeat him and Rafael Nadal 4-6 7-6(2) 11-9 on the opening evening; then doing the same again with the trophy itself at stake against Tsitsipas, to justify McEnroe’s nickname for him of “Prime Time” (copying the former NFL player, Deion “Prime Time” Sanders).
The triumph over Tsitsipas almost defied belief, as the Greek had looked untouchable, destroying Diego Schwartzman 6-2 6-1 on the first day, and continuing the same way against Tiafoe, hitting multiple winners to take the first set 6-1 in barely 20 minutes. Furthermore, having saved a match point in the deciding tie-break against Federer and Nadal, Tiafoe defended another four in the second set tie-break versus Tsitsipas.
And he did not hide his delight in front of his team-mates afterwards, commenting: “To do it here in Laver Cup, win for the first time, how bad Mac wanted it, how bad everybody else wanted it, seeing what Felix did and Jack, I thought it was just time. It was time to get it done.”
Auger-Aliassime went still further, describing his consecutive wins in the doubles and then singles as the high point of his tennis life to date: “Today has been fantastic. It’s been one of best performances in my career so far. I got close a few times in recent times against the great champions, so it feels great to get across line at last in one of these. Especially in this arena, with this team.”
If Tiafoe has had an outstanding month, Auger-Aliassime has recorded a very fine fortnight, defeating the reigning US Open champion and new world number one, Carlos Alcaraz, playing for Canada in the Davis Cup last week before beating the reigning Wimbledon champion and long-time world number one, Djokovic, for Team World in the Laver Cup this weekend.
Despite the encouraging improvements demonstrated by the 22-year-old from Montreal, it was an enormous disappointment for Team Europe that Djokovic, like Tsitsipas, could not reproduce his dominance from the previous days at the O2 Arena in the final session of the competition. The Serb had looked superb less than 24 hours earlier in comprehensively outplaying Tiafoe 6-1 6-3.
Having not played since winning Wimbledon, the singles and doubles which he was involved in on Saturday night left Djokovic unsurprisingly feeling the after-effects and a lack of match sharpness on Sunday afternoon. But he also confirmed after losing to Auger-Aliassime that he was struggling with a right wrist injury, which needed medical attention when he came off court.
“I have been struggling with my right wrist for the last 4, 5 days, to be honest. I have been keeping it under control, but the two matches yesterday probably had an effect. Today was not easy. I couldn’t serve as fast or as accurately as I would like to. That affected my whole game. Of course, I’m not taking anything away from his performance. He was serving extremely well. It was outstanding, big serving, and very solid from back of the court. You know, he deserved to win, no doubt.”
Djokovic went on to explain: “It was the other wrist that I had issues with before, but not recently. I had issues with that wrist years ago, I think at the Rio Olympics and another time I can’t recall now. I think it could be a combination of not playing matches for almost three months, and then conditions here being such that the balls feel really big and slow. When the balls get used quite a bit, they kind of sit up on the court.
“So you always have to generate a lot of wrist action and speed, which, you know, could be the case why I have been feeling soreness of my right wrist in the last four days that I have been training and playing here. But I think it’s also the two matches I played last night, that I was excited about and played great in, looked very sharp, felt great on the court, and then maybe the lack of matches also is something that I felt today.”
Djokovic’s wrist problem may have made Team World’s win more possible, but it was still a significant collective achievement, after Team Europe had claimed the first four editions, including a comprehensive 14-1 triumph in Boston last year. In addition, it had appeared a mismatch in advance, with the ‘Big Four’ players of men’s tennis in recent decades joining together on the same team for the first (and last) time.
Federer’s farewell may have been slightly spoilt, in losing his concluding competitive match and eventually the Laver Cup as well. But for McEnroe it is finally a first success as a team captain, having never yet managed to do so either previously in the Davis Cup or more recently in the Laver Cup. John has now matched his brother and vice-captain, Patrick, who led the USA to the Davis Cup in 2007.