Dramatic to the end, the inaugural Laver Cup came down to the last – and arguably best – of the competition’s dozen matches as Roger Federer fought back to beat Nick Kyrgios 4-6 7-6(6) 11-9 and secure the first title for Team Europe.
The O2 Arena was a wall of noise as the most compelling singles showdown of the weekend delivered a high-wire act of a match, Kyrgios coming within a point of dragging Team World from 9-3 down at the start of the final day into the winner-takes-all doubles Decider.
In the end, however, Federer sealed the title in a match tiebreak – the sixth of the weekend, and 18th tiebreak in all – recovering from 8-5 down and saving a match point at 9-8 to secure Team Europe’s triumph.
“I was ready to go – I had to be,” said Federer, who ended up contributing three victories and seven points to the hosts’ 15-9 victory. “That’s what a team member does. The boys played fantastic all weekend, but we knew it could change very quickly on Sunday. The Team World boys have been great, in the doubles especially, and we knew it was going to be tough. I was looking at getting ready for a doubles at the very end. I’m very pleased and relived that we did win the singles and got it done.”
The result might follow the form book, but a glance to the other end of the court as Federer and Team Europe celebrated spelt out just how close John McEnroe’s Team World side had pushed Borg’s boys in blue. A tearful Kyrgios was consoled by the Team World bench led by Jack Sock after seeing his sterling effort come up just short against the 19-time major champion. Unity, commitment, brilliance from both sides – the final chapter of the first Laver Cup had it all.
“I’m most proud of these guys – they put fought with their heart and soul and put everything into this,” McEnroe said in tribute to his underdog squad during the trophy ceremony. “And we were so, so close to pulling this off.”
Determined to unsettle the 19-time major winner, Kyrgios kept him guessing with his return position, sitting deep in the vast O2 Arena court before turning the SABR on the Swiss to break in game five for a 3-2 lead and throwing a leaping fist-pump towards the Team World bench as he yelled ‘c’mon baby!’
But it was the 10-minute game with the Australian serving at 4-3 that saw the contest truly hit top gear. From the moment Federer backed himself to block a cross-court blast with his backhand and find the open court, the momentum was once again up for grabs. Three break points came and went for the world No.2 as Kyrgios refused to throw points away, before an inch-perfect drop shot opened the door for the hold and a 5-3 lead.
A second when serving for the set at 5-4 was no as wise, drifting into the tramline to bring up two break points for Federer. But the 36-year-old spurned the chance, two errant forehands helping to see Kyrgios over the line.
Team World’s unlikely comeback was suddenly a set away, but Federer was in no mood to give up Team Europe’s fifth defeat of the weekend. Heeding Nadal’s advice to be more aggressive with the forehand, he worked his way to 0-40 at 1-2. A sixth and seventh break point came and went, but not an eighth, and it was Federer’s time to bellow an extended ‘c’mon!’
Back came Kyrgios, breaking in the next game and making light of his aching knees as he held on to earn a tiebreak. A stunning backhand drive saved Federer’s first set point, but there was no stopping him on the second, and the match go the distance.
Heightened tension on the court and heightened volume in the stands greeted the 10-pointer, with Federer throwing in two double-faults and Kyrgios somehow steering a regulation volley wide in the early exchanges. But both men rallied to find their best when it mattered, Krygios surging to an 8-5 lead and clinging on to reach 9-8, but it was not to be. Federer held his serve and with Kyrgios facing Laver Cup point, his forehand found the net to spark ecstatic scenes throughout the arena.
“It’s been a dream weekend for me,” Federer said. “I had a vision once upon a time that we should honor the great players of our sport. There’s only that many roles that a legend can have in our sport – coaching is one, or the seniors tour. I just thought it was not enough.
“We need to see the legends of our sport more frequently, who we’d like to thank. It’s not just the players standing on court today, there’s so many more that have paved the way for us so we can enjoy playing in front of a crowd like this, earn a living and live our dream. All of us, all we wanted to do all our life is play tennis, and here we are.”