Friday’s night session at the O2 Arena sees a highly anticipated rematch between two world-beating young guns, and a doubles showdown that pits an untested star team against an experienced partnership.
Team World’s Denis Shapovalov wasted no time in spelling out what’s at stake when he takes on Alexander Zverev in the night session’s opening match. “I’m ready to get some revenge on this guy,” said the 18-year-old Canadian, whose remarkable run to the Coupe Rogers semifinal in August was ended by the German, two years his senior, who went on to claim the title.
Zverev arrives in Prague with five titles to his name in 2017, results that have propelled the 6’6” 20-year-old to No.4 in the world. But he knows the threat posed by Shapovalov on a quick hard court: the teen’s ranking has rocketed over 200 places this season to a career-best No.51 after reaching the fourth round at the US Open as a qualifier.
Nevertheless, Shapovalov – unveiled as one of John McEnroe’s captain’s picks ahead of the year’s final major – knows he will need to produce something special to capture a point for Team World.
“He’s an incredible player so it’s going to be tough,” Shapovalov said ahead of this second career meeting between two of the hottest young talents in the sport. “But I’m excited for it.”
Rafael Nadal rarely steps out on court as an unknown entity, but the world No.1’s partnership with Czech hero Tomas Berdych is uncharted territory.
Nadal certainly has the doubles pedigree to back up his selection by Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg. The Spaniard has 11 doubles titles to his name, going all the way back to the first tour-level title of his career back in Umag in 2003, and claimed doubles gold at last year’s Olympic Games on Rio de Janeiro with regular partner Marc Lopez.
But all eyes will be on his first-time partnership with Berdych, who has played just 10 doubles matches in the past two seasons. The Czech might not have extensive tour experience in the tramlines with two titles to his name, but the 32-year-old’s Davis Cup doubles record speaks for itself: 21 wins, two defeats, two titles.
Nevertheless, when it comes to experience, it’s advantage Team World. Aussie-American duo Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock are good friends off the court and a formidable partnership on it, having reached two ATP Masters 1000 semifinals together and beating the likes of American greats Bob and Mike Bryan and Marcelo Melo and Ivan Dodig in the past three seasons.
Then there’s Sock’s wildcard: Nadal may have 16 Grand Slam singles titles to his name, but the Nebraska native is the only player on court with a doubles Grand Slam crown, having won Wimbledon with Vasek Pospisil in 2014.
“We will need the support against Nick and Jack,” Nadal admitted. “We hope to play well – it’ll be the first time that we’ve played together. And here we are, in the hometown of Tomas. It’s going to be exciting.”