Laver Cup | Kyrgios claws back a World win as ‘Fedal’ land the doubles for Europe
The Saturday night session of the Laver Cup was all about the doubles, but then Nick Kyrgios stole the show to score for Team World and narrow the gap against the favourites, Team Europe.
Earlier in the day, Roger Federer had defeated Sam Querrey in straight sets, while Rafael Nadal edged out Jack Sock in a match tiebreak to give Team Europe an additional four points to go up 7-1 in the Laver Cup, since matches on Saturday were worth two points apiece.
Two more matches were to be played in the night session: Tomáš Berdych against Nick Kyrgios, and then the doubles, a dream team of the world’s two best players, Nadal and Federer, facing Querrey and Sock.
That was to be the main course of the feast that is the Laver Cup, without doubt, the doubles combo of ‘Fedal’, and it really didn’t much matter who they played; or did it?
I always knew it was going to be a tough match playing Tomas, in his hometown obviously. He came out swinging. We've played each other a couple of times and I know exactly what he's capable of. Props to him, he played a great first set, but I served well, hung in and got a crucial win for my team. Nick Kyrgios
As it happened, Team World’s Kyrgios came from a set down to defeat the local favourite, Berdych, in the singles match, and set the cat among the pigeons.
Urged to lift his energy levels by captain John McEnroe in the early stages of the match, the Australian’s 6-4 7-6(4) [10-6] victory over Berdych gave Team World two valuable points, closing the gap to 7-3 to Team Europe.
It was a match in which the sparks flew, with the 22-year old Aussie bad-boy a set down and serving at a crucial point in the second set, saving a break point before serving out the game with an ace – or so he thought, but the umpire called it a let in a decision that left Kyrgios furious.
The World No 20 shook his head and walked towards the umpire, with TV cameras hearing him question the decision and telling the official: “What? I’m about to lose my s**t if you call that a let.”
Unsurprisingly, it went down badly as the umpire informed the Aussie that it was the net machine that had made the decision by alerting him with a beep.
Kyrgios wasn’t having any of it though, retorting: “F**k the machine though.”
The controversial former Wimbledon quarter-finalist then picked up his towel before receiving a few calming words from his captain, John McEnroe.
McEnroe, himself renowned for being fiery in his day, couldn’t stop Kyrgios hitting a ball into the crowd but the player eventually held before winning the second set.
Initially flat, Kyrgios had had his serve broken in the first game of the match, and seemed powerless as Berdych served with precision and returned with deadly accuracy to claim the first set in just 30 minutes.
The Australian was subsequently treated for a knee injury, but the ‘just hang on to your serve and you never know’ advice imparted by McEnroe clearly helped as he warmed to the high-pressure task.
A more feisty Kyrgios delivered and he won the second set in a tiebreak, before securing the victory in the match tiebreak with a rare Berdych double fault on match point sealed his fate.
“Me and Mac [McEnroe] actually get on really well” Kyrgios told Sky Sports. “We kind of joke around a little bit and we can get on well.
“The bench is such a great help. They’re all good friends of mine and we’re all becoming great friends. They got behind me and I got a crucial win today.
“I always knew it was going to be a tough match playing Tomas, in his hometown obviously.
“He came out swinging. We’ve played each other a couple of times and I know exactly what he’s capable of.
“Props to him, he played a great first set, but I served well, hung in and got a crucial win for my team.”
In delivering two valuable points, Kyrgios’ victory had certainly kept Team World in the hunt at the Laver Cup and their doubles combination now had something to fight for.
Having been fierce rivals on the court for thirteen years and counting, Federer and Nadal finally got to play doubles together competitively for the first time.
“It’s going to be difficult. Unfortunately, it’s the truth,” Federer told reporters of the challenge of playing doubles, after defeating Querrey.
“But, you know, I think doubles is very much a return, a serve, a volley, there. We saw the doubles yesterday.
“You could argue that Sock and Kyrgios were a tiny bit better maybe, especially in the beginning, but at the end, they still had to — they were at, I don’t know, 6-All in the super-tiebreaker and anything could happen.
“I think it’s going to be very much an intensity and energy situation for us tonight. I don’t worry about Rafa, to be honest. And me being next to Rafa, I know that I’ll be moving around, as well. So I just have to, you know, kind of find my groove, I guess, to some extent.”
Nadal may have proven his doubles prowess in recent years with a Gold medal at the Rio Olympics alongside fellow Spaniard Marc Lopez, but it was two years since Federer had played a tour-level doubles match, and almost three since his last victory in the 2014 Davis Cup final alongside Stan Wawrinka, when Switzerland claimed the title for the first time.
Like Nadal, Federer is an Olympic doubles Gold medallist, triumphing at the Beijing Games in 2008, also with Wawrinka, and has eight doubles titles in all, compared to the Spaniard’s eleven.
The ‘Fedal’ partnership was the one that fans wanted to see since the Laver Cup format was first announced.
Team Europe are not exactly experts in doubles, with only two players in the six-man lineup have ever played together before – Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, who have a 1-2 record, plus Zverev won a doubles title this season alongside brother Mischa at Montpellier.
When it comes to existing partnerships, Team World comes out on top.
Sock and Kyrgios had already played together prior to Friday night’s showdown with Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych, picking off such major-winning partnerships as Bob and Mike Bryan and Marcelo Melo and Ivan Dodig.
Sock even has two doubles majors to his name, winning the men’s doubles at Wimbledon with Canada’s Vasek Pospisil in 2014 and the US Open mixed doubles title in 2011 with Melanie Oudin.
On this night, however, all eyes were fixed on ‘Fedal’, the iconic rivalry turned first-time partnership in Prague – lefty and righty, finesse and fire and the gods of our sport.
The two Americans, both accomplished doubles players, had never played together before so it was a first for all on the black court.
Fedal, however, gelled perfectly, winning their first ever doubles match together in some style.
The world’s most popular players – and winner of 35 Grand Slam Singles titles between them – combined to defeat Querrey and Sock, 6-4 1-6 [10-5], giving Europe a hefty 9-3 lead in the Laver Cup.
Although the great duo had lost the momentum in the second set, they were super motivated to win the match tiebreak and bring the win home to Europe.
The American pair probably had the edge, facing just 1 break point in the entire match, that cost them the opening set, and they held no less than 9 break points, converting just 2 in the second, which wasn’t enough at the last.
Inexplicably, they lost all the momentum in the match tiebreak, losing 8 out of the first 9 points, and that gap was just too big to mount any kind of comeback.
Both teams played well on serve right from the start, with 6 easy holds, and Sock was the one who lost his serve first, getting broken in the seventh game after some great volleying by Federer at the net.
Nadal served in the eighth game to consolidate the break, but he and Federer faced 4 break points before they finally brought the game home to maintain their lead.
Sock pushed them hard with some fine strokes from the baseline, but he and Querrey failed to make that final push and break back.
Federer served out for the set in the tenth game after 39 minutes, and the holders of 35 Grand Slam titles between them were a mere set away from the triumph.
Then, all of a sudden, their magic vanished as they started to struggle in the second set, while Querrey and Sock raised their level of play to gain the advantage from both the baseline and at the net.
They broke Nadal in the fourth game and Federer in the sixth to take the set by 6-1 in just 29 minutes, sending the match into the deciding tiebreak, with the momentum firmly on their side.
Yet, Fedal found their drive again, creating an 8-1 gap via 3 mini-breaks, and while the Americans came back to 9-5, they could not bridge the deficit, lost the next point and the match, as Nadal and Feder celebrated with their team on the European bench.
“I’m very happy how we played, so much fun,” Federer said.
“We played with too much energy, we went for everything, ” Nadal said of a clash the pair endured in the first set.
“It was an unbelievable feeling .. the support has been a unique moment for us. The crowd, the team the situation everybody was so special.”
As a result of the pair’s victory, Europe lead the World 9-3 with Borg’s team now within touching distance of taking the title against McEnroe’s men.
On Sunday Team World must win three of the four matches on the schedule to edge out the Europeans but for that to happen, their luck must turn.