Laver Cup | Federer and Nadal extend Europe’s lead to 7-1
Team Europe came into Day 2 of the Laver Cup with a 3-1 lead over the rest of the World, but on Saturday’s schedule, match wins were worth double the points, and the big guns were out to claim them.
The Europeans are clear favourites, fielding five of the world’s top seven players, and Croatia’s Marin Cilic, Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Germany’s Alexander Zverev have already got them off to an excellent start, winning all three of their singles matches on Friday.
That set Nadal and hometown Czech Tomas Berdych up for a clean sweep with the crowd behind them, but the pair started slowly and were eventually beaten, 6-3 6-7(7) [10-7], by Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock, with the encounter decided in a 10-point match tiebreak.
Cilic beat American Frances Tiafoe 7-6(3) 7-6(0) in match 1 and then Thiem overcame the challenge from another American, John Isner, 6-7(15) 7-6(2) [10-7], after which Zverev fought off Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 7-6(3) 7-6(5).
Team World have no player inside the top 15 and no Grand Slam titles, compared to a combined 36 for the European side.
The teams are captained by Björn Borg and John McEnroe, whose own rivalry starting in the 1970s featured a contrast in temperament and style that made their matches the kind of must-watch events that Laver Cup organisers hope to showcase.
I had a great time out there. I knew I was playing against the guy they all wanted to watch, and he played incredible – he was just too good – but it was fun. Sam Querrey
On Day 2, Roger Federer took to the court amid a rapturous reception and the 36-year-old World No 2 did not disappoint in his 69-minute, 6-4 6-2, win over Sam Querrey.
After an eight-hour day of cheerleading on Friday, it took Federer just four games to get his timing right in what was his first competitive match since his quarter-final defeat to Juan-Martin del Potro at the US Open.
“You can’t just come out hitting half-volley screamers,” Federer said. “You have to find some rhythm.
“But when you look up and see the players we have on the bench cheering you on, it’s not hard to get going.”
Once he had broken Querrey in the fifth game he was away, and dominated the opening match of the afternoon session in Prague’s O2 Arena, putting Europe ahead 5-1 on the overall Laver Cup Leaderboard.
The 19-time Grand Slam winner wasted no time closing out the top-ranked American before making way for the World No 1 Rafael Nadal.
The Swiss mixed up his shots well, forcing Querrey to play from awkward positions, and he defended his second serve much better than his rival, winning 13 out of the 19 points, which made all the difference.
He closed out the match with a forehand winner, giving his team an even bigger lead ahead of the remaining 3 clashes of Saturday’s program.
Querrey played well at the start of the match, with 2 easy holds and a break point in the second game, which Federer saved it with an ace.
In the 5th game, Federer earned a break point when the big American missed a volley at the net, and he converted it after a mistake from Querrey, to take a 3-2 lead.
Federer saved another break point in the sixth game, firing another good serve, and he brought the set home with a service winner in game 10, after 37 minutes.
Querrey could not find his first serve in the second set, falling to a low 45%, and he lost almost half of the points in his games, which was all that the Swiss needed to seal the deal.
He broke in game 3 when Querrey sent a backhand wide, and again in the 5th game opening a 4-1 lead.
Federer lost just 4 points in his games and he crossed the finish line with a hold at love in the eighth game of the set, ousting his opponent in under 70 minutes to earn the 4th singles win for Team Europe.
The American was clearly on the court as supporting cast: “I had a great time out there,” he said.
“I knew I was playing against the guy they all wanted to watch, and he played incredible – he was just too good – but it was fun.”
Next up was Nadal against Team World’s Jack Sock, and if anyone suggests the Laver Cup is simply an exhibition match, you had but to see the effort and commitment put into the second singles of the day by both competitors.
Nadal was severely challenged by Sock, and the upset suffered by the American, who could not quite pull off the win against the No 1 in the world, said it all about how important this match was to him.
While Nadal broke as early as the third game, Sock hit back, forcing the Spaniard to break for a second time and run out the first set, 6-3.
After a pep talk from his team captain, McEnroe, Sock rallied to play with more aggression and conviction in the second, and was justly rewarded by taking it 6-3 to force the match tiebreak.
The rangy 24-year-old took a nasty fall in the breaker but came back to level and had chances to go ahead but was frustrated by Nadal’s persistence and lady luck.
Except for the width of a net cord, Sock might have held a match point, such are the margins in Laver Cup, and seeing his forehand loop into the tramlines at 8-8 after his monumental effort to turn the match around was a hammer blow for the American, who was edged out, 6-3 3-6 [11-9], by a mightily relieved Nadal.
With that, Team Europe moved into a 7-1 lead ahead of the night session, while Team World were left to ponder on what might well have been…
Sock smashed his racket into his chair and left the court, distraught with disappointment as Nadal happily high-fived Federer and his team on the sidelines.
The gap between Team Europe and Team World could widen further on Saturday night when Tomas Berdych faces Nick Kyrgios ahead of the long-awaited pairing of Federer and Nadal in the doubles against Querrey and Sock.
The Laver Cup bills itself as tennis unrivalled, a unique event in which rivals become teammates.
The competition, which will rotate between Europe and the rest of the world each year, features three singles and one doubles match each day.
The unique scoring format in which a win was worth one point on Friday and counts for two on Saturday and three on Sunday, makes every match worth fighting for until the very last.
Anything could still happen as both teams strive to reach 13 points to win the magnificent Lave Cup trophy.