Federer speeds past Querrey
Finally the Laver Cup crowd got to see the man they wanted. The competition may be named after the great Rod Laver, but it’s the brainchild of Roger Federer, and ask anyone who sells tickets for top-level tennis and they will tell you Federer is the man people pay good money to see.
At the 1991 US Open, the great showman Jimmy Connors saw a courtside camera while towelling off at the start of the fifth set tiebreak, looked into it and said “This is what they pay for, this is what they want!”
Federer is too modest to phrase it quite like that, but he knows the crowd in Prague wanted to see him above all else. The reception for the reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion was loudest of all 12 players and two captains introduced to the crowd at the start of day two, and the 36-year-old world No 2 didn’t disappoint in a 69-minute 6-4 6-2 win over Sam Querrey that gave Europe a 5-1 lead.
After an eight-hour day of cheerleading on Friday – from which he was delighted to report there was “no muscle pain” – it took Federer four games to get his timing right in what was his first competitive match since this quarterfinal defeat to Juan-Martin del Potro at the US Open. But once he’d broken in the fifth game, he was away.
There were times when it was easy to feel sorry for Querrey. With the crowd purring at Federer’s silky strokemaking, the American was reduced almost to the role of a hitting partner. But he put up some spirited opposition, almost breaking back in the sixth game, and then preventing Federer from going a double-break up as Querrey held serve for the rest of the set. “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.”
Once Federer had broken for 2-1 in the second set, he started showing his full arsenal. His first serve-volley came in the 14th game, he started becoming more adventurous with his drop shots, there was a guttural “Chumm Jetzt” (Swiss German for “Come on now!”) after a break of serve, he tried a SABR net rush off a second serve (secret attack by Roger), and two points before breaking for the third time in the match he hit a sizzling backhand down the line to bring the house down.
He was clearly more than satisfied with his first match since the US Open. “You can’t just come out hitting half-volley screamers,” he 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.”
This was not his greatest performance – he admitted his movement was still not back to its best – but he was “very happy” with where he was after this one match, and having rested after the US Open he felt his overall level was getting better. It was too rusty to be a masterclass, but most of the trademark Federer elements were there.
And whatever the details of his performance, all 17,000 people in the O2 Arena can go home and tell their friends and family until their dying day: I saw the great Roger Federer play live.
The win puts Europe ahead 5-1 in the overall Laver Cup Leaderboard.
Federer will return to center court for Europe in tonight’s highly anticipated doubles with world No.1 Rafael Nadal against Querrey and Jack Sock.
Roger and Rafa to combine in first-ever doubles pairing