Following a brief colourful opening ceremony the 2021 Laver Cup got underway at the TD Garden auditorium in Boston with the current champions Team Europe taking the majority of the points available to lead 3-1 into Day Two.
I have to say I was very impressed about Casper’s performance. It‘s very difficult to play the first match … it’s a huge event, there’s a lot of people, a lot of nerves for everybody. And the quality of this match he played was very impressive. Thomas Enqvist - Team Europe Vice-Captain
In what is the fourth edition of this team event, the brainchild of Roger Federer who was present in the stands, Team World have yet to get their name on the impressive Laver trophy which provided the focal point of the opening proceedings which also brought on court Rod ’The Rocket’ Laver, the man himself, aged 83, after whom the event is named.
The opening match pitched two players making their debuts at the event, Norway’s Casper Ruud and the giant 6’11” American Reilly Opelka who just couldn’t find an answer to the consistent Ruud who produced an assured 6-3 7-6(4) victory to get the visitors rolling thereby maintaining Team Europe’s unblemished record of winning the opening match of each edition.
“I handled it well, I got an early break which kind of calms the nerves down a little bit,” Ruud said.
“I was just trying to enjoy the moment and tried to play without pressure. It was a very good match for me.”
Team Europe vice-captain Thomas Enqvist added: “I have to say I was very impressed about Casper’s performance. It‘s very difficult to play the first match … it’s a huge event, there’s a lot of people, a lot of nerves for everybody. And the quality of this match he played was very impressive.”
Felix Auger Aliassime had chances to level the score in the second singles against Matteo Berrettini but the Italian held the Canadian off at the critical moments in the second set, having lost the first.
Auger-Aliassime had Berrettini on the ropes when he held two break points in the penultimate game of the second set which, had he converted, would have given him a chance to serve out a straight-sets win.
But Berrettini escaped, broke Auger-Aliassime in the following game to force a match tie-break and rebounded from 5-7 down to get past the Canadian.
At two hours and 52 minutes, it was the longest Laver Cup match in the competition’s four-year history.
“It was a tough battle against a good friend,” said Berrettini following his dramatic 6-7(3) 7-5 10-6 win, his second against Auger-Aliassime in three meetings in 2021.
“I felt that the match was really hard. Felix was playing really good; not giving me anything. No mistakes, serving really well.
“I felt a different energy, playing for my team (and) not just myself, for my family that is just there (watching). I felt great and they helped me a lot.”
There was a similar scenario in the third singles with Diego Schwartzman surprising Andrei Rublev by claiming the first set for the loss of just two games, but the Russian came storming back to level and then outlast his Argentine rival in the match tie-breaker.
Fifth-ranked Rublev, 5-8 down in that tie-break, won four straight points to arrive at match point, shrugging off a double fault on his first to eventually seal a 4-6 6-3 11-9 victory.
“Today we are a bit more lucky; Matteo won a tough match against Felix in a super tiebreak, now you saw my match,” said Rublev after giving Team Europe a 3-0 lead.
“It was so close; Diego was leading all the super tiebreak, but in the end, I find a way to win.
“This happens. This is tennis, this is sport. It’s emotions. Someone has to win; someone has to lose.”
It was left to John Isner and Denis Shapovalov to stop Team Europe whitewashing the opposition on Day One.
Roared on by the crowd the pair beat Berrettini and Alexander Zverev 4-6 7-6(2) 10-1 to bring the opening day’s play to a conclusion at midnight local time, with an ace after one hour and 40-minutes.
“We didn’t want to go down 4-0… We have a real shot at this tomorrow,” Isner commented after the match. “We’ve been in this situation before.
“All these guys on Europe, they’re top 10 for a reason. They play the big points very well. We were just a little unlucky in singles, I think a lot of us know that.
“Denis and I had to bring the energy, had to try to get this score a little bit closer and we’ll take our cuts tomorrow.”
Certainly all is not lost for Team World who can quickly make up the deficit on Saturday given match wins on Day Two are worth two points.