Marin strikes for Europe
Croatian tennis star Marin Cilic won the first point in Laver Cup competition, when he defeated American Frances Tiafoe 7-6 (3) 7-6(1) today.
The vastly more experienced Cilic stepped out to play the first match of the unique event, and almost encountered a showstopper.
The 19-year-old Tiafoe is a young man who loves a big occasion – he showed as much in a near upset of Roger Federer in the first round of the recent US Open – and the opening match of the innovative Laver Cup suited perfectly.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Frances would smile later. “The last match I played was on Arthur Ashe, so it felt pretty good out here today … I like these stages. I usually end up playing good tennis.”
Ranked world No.72 against Cilic’s No.5, the nerveless teenager indeed embraced the occasion. The tense first set would fittingly climax in a tiebreaker, neither man having capitalized on either of their lone breakpoints opportunities.
There, Cilic was steadier, claiming the first point of the tiebreak and tightly holding onto it to secure the set in 54 minutes.
But Tiafoe was warming up to his showman style in the second set, the big forehand and inspiring athleticism becoming more of a feature. Both weapons had an impact as the Team World competitor became the first man to convert a break point, going 4-1 up in the second set in the process.
Adding to the entertainment, there were some spirited celebrations, exchanges with the bench and a laughing high-five for a courtside photographer.
Tiafoe’s immediate audience also helped as the more vocal Team World teammates cheered on. “We’re all really good friends, everyone on Team World,” said the young American. “Especially me and Nick and Jack are extremely close.”
Other passionate support – and advice – came from Team Captain McEnroe, who was animated from his courtside bench. “Just try to be aggressive. Look for chances come forward. Don’t let him try and dictate,” Tiafoe said of the advice McEnroe was dispensing.
But Cilic too, had a powerful backer in his team corner and in the face of the challenge presented by Tiafoe, he possessed the same cool as his captain.
“Definitely (it was) a big honor for me to sit next to Bjorn and to open up this event,” said the Team Europe member of the calm influence the 11-time Grand Slam champion.
“On the court he’s very easy going, very stable. He definitely gave me several advices in good times and support(ed) me … I really enjoyed my time on court with him.”
The theatrical Tiafoe couldn’t consolidate, his Team Europe opponent breaking back and persisting to send the second set to a tiebreak.
A double fault from Tiafoe to begin that decider further wrestled momentum, Cilic seizing the match with the last of his 17 aces.
“For me (it) was definitely great to start and to open with Frances this event, especially that we played very solid match, very good level,” said the Croat. “I hope also that the crowd enjoyed, and definitely, for me, I’m very happy that I brought the first point for our team.”
Match 1 to Europe. An impressive opening act from two entertaining performers and the sense that the Laver Cup is warming up as an extravagana.