Unforgettable scenes mark a bumper first day
“One swallow does not a summer make,” runs the old proverb, so it would be wrong to judge the Laver Cup on its first day, but few could disagree that it’s got off to a flying start.
Despite significant differences in rankings, seven of the eight regular sets played on Friday went to tiebreaks, two matches went to super tiebreaks that were very close, the crowds were good, social media was abuzz, and there two very contrasting team ethics.
One of the abiding memories at the end of day one was the sense of fun that the Team World bench had, in particular during the evening session.
While Team Europe were calm and dignified, with senior members happy to offer advice to captain and players, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Frances Tiafoe, Sam Querrey and John Isner became ever more zany in their celebrations when their teammate Denis Shapovalov won points in his match against Alexander Zverev.
Conventional wisdom in team tennis says that the players due to play the next match should sit in the locker room or player lounge, getting themselves calmly psyched up for the contest that awaits them. Kyrgios and Sock threw that out of the window. They warmed up for their doubles by cheerleading the Team World celebrations in increasingly exotic fashion. They lunged to the floor, did push-ups, faked being electrocuted, and started their own Mexican wave. Applause and high-fives? – so last year!
While some may choose to see it as a bit flippant, it was actually a very serious form of team-building. It became clear that Team World is driven by Kyrgios, Kokkinakis and Sock, with Shapovalov and Tiafoe very much of the same generation, and the older Isner and Querrey happy to join the fraternity. And when Kyrgios and Sock won the World’s first point of the weekend in Friday’s closing doubles, there was a sense that they had established a belief within the redshirts that their 1-3 opening day deficit can be easily overcome.
Neither captain can realistically be judged on his picks for Friday, as they were all done blind, but it becomes more of a calculation from Saturday. Half an hour after Friday’s play ended, John McEnroe handed Bjorn Borg the list of Team World’s three singles players and one doubles pairing for Saturday. By 9am Saturday morning, Borg will have decided which of his players will face McEnroe’s nominations, and at 11am it’ll all be made public.
There are certain constraints on both men. All six players have to play singles on the first two days, so McEnroe’s three will be Querrey, Kyrgios and Sock, while Borg must decide how to match them up against Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. The doubles can feature any players, including those who play singles. Then on Saturday night, Borg hands McEnroe his three singles players and one doubles team for Sunday, and by Sunday morning McEnroe will have confirmed Sunday’s lineup with his picks.
Nadal ought to be a banker for Europe, given the form he’s in, but he’s unlikely to face Kyrgios who has beaten him twice, including five weeks ago in Cincinnati. More crucial for Europe is Roger Federer’s fitness; he didn’t look to be moving well at the US Open, and while he’d fancy his chances against all three Americans if fully fit, a limited Federer may struggle against any of the three.
Much has been made of the possibility of Federer and Nadal playing doubles together, but this seems unlikely on Saturday. Instead Borg may opt for Zverev and Marin Cilic, two big hitters who have a reasonable amount of doubles experience without being top-level doubles players. If Querrey is first on, he may be called on to play twice on Sunday, as he has won two doubles titles with Isner.
It means the Europeans have a few hours longer to prepare for their Saturday opponents than the World players, but with Sunday’s matches worth two points each, all it takes is for Team World to win the first rubber for the leaderboard to read 3-3. The Laver Cup could prove a lot closer than many people thought when the teams were first announced.
Team World to nominate:
Team Europe to respond with:
Querrey v Federer
Kyrgios v Berdych
Sock v Nadal
Isner-Querrey v Cilic-Zverev