Breaking it down: Dimitrov debuts in Laver Cup Day 1 matches
The second instalment of the Laver Cup gets under way on Friday with Team World hoping for passionate home support as they take on defending champions Team Europe at Chicago’s United Center.
Europe won the inaugural event 15-9 in Prague last year, but only after Roger Federer won a thrilling final match against Nick Kyrgios.
Federer will be in action again on day one when he teams up with Novak Djokovic for the first time in a doubles partnership that can boast 34 Grand Slam singles titles between them.
First will come two singles matches in the day session from 1pm, followed by one singles and the doubles in the evening session from 7pm.
Each match on Day 1 is worth one point towards the target of 13 required to win the Laver Cup on Sunday. Here is how the teams line up on day one:
Grigor Dimitrov (Europe, ranked 7th) v Frances Tiafoe (World, ranked 40th)
The home crowd will have an American to support first up as Tiafoe looks to avenge defeat by Dimitrov in Canada earlier this year, their only meeting to date. Both men are great movers with all-court games, it could be a question of who can get on the front foot first. “It’s going to be fun. I’m pretty excited for it, playing Grigor again,” said Tiafoe. Tiafoe opened the first Laver Cup match in 2017 against Marin Cilic but has halved his ranking since losing that match in two tiebreaker sets. For Dimitrov, he is a first-time Laver Cup competitor.
Kyle Edmund (Europe, ranked 16th) v Jack Sock (World, ranked 17th)
Sock will hope to ride the momentum of a good result for fellow American Tiafoe in the previous match, as he faces one of the few men on tour with a forehand as powerful as his own. Tied at 1-1 in previous meetings, expect to see Edmund and Sock wrestling for the first opportunity to attack with their best shot in every rally. “He has a very dangerous game with his forehand, likes to use it, has a big serve to back it up,” said Edmund.
David Goffin (Europe, ranked 11th) v Diego Schwartzman (World, ranked 14th)
The two smallest, lightest players on show are among the toughest, smartest players in the game and are likely to produce another hard-fought contest. Goffin leads their head-to-head 3-1 but the matches have been close. “I’m super excited to be part of the team” said Goffin. “It’s something special for me. We have to be really focused from the first match until the end.”
Jack Sock / Kevin Anderson (World) v Roger Federer / Novak Djokovic (Europe)
The attention will be on Federer and Djokovic, but the smart money might be on Sock and Anderson. Federer has not played doubles since last year’s Laver Cup with Rafael Nadal, and Djokovic has just five doubles matches to his name this year. World boast “the best doubles player in the world” in Sock, according to captain John McEnroe, and the booming power of Anderson.
The Captains’ view
John McEnroe (World): “We have four of the six core guys from last year. I think together we work really well, so we’re excited. But we’re hopeful that the crowd is as involved or more than they were last year.”
Bjorn Borg (Europe): “I believe it’s going to be a great match. Team World has a good team too, so it’s going to be a close match and very exciting tennis. We are here to try to defend our Cup. It’s going to be difficult, but I think we have a good chance.”
Game Insight Group analysis
We can get a good idea about the strength of each of the Laver Cup teams by looking at the expected form of their players as they head into their first matches on Friday.
Using the current GIG Elo ratings* for each player in singles and doubles, Team Europe holds 52% of the singles strength, while Team World has 51% of the doubles strength.
Team Europe has four of the five top-rated singles players in the event. Djokovic and Federer are the only singles players currently rated over 2000. The highest-rated Team World player, Kyrgios, takes the fifth spot with a rating of 1807.
With a doubles match to be played on every day of the event, doubles performance becomes a major factor in the win chances of each team.
Only Zverev, Dimitrov, and Edmund have doubles ratings that are on par with their singles ratings. For the rest, the gap between their singles and doubles performance is big – massive in some cases – for better and worse.
Sock is the best doubles player by a wide margin and will enter the Laver Cup coming off Grand Slam titles at the US Open and Wimbledon (both with compatriot Mike Bryan).
If healthy, expect Sock to bring a level of doubles play that is equal to Djokovic’s formidable level in singles.
*How do Elo ratings work?
• Elo ratings are already used in many other sports and when applied to tennis they outperform other published prediction methods, including those based on official rankings.
• Elo ratings factor in all main draw singles matches above the Challenger level.
• Elo is smart about how many points are won or lost. If a player did more than expected in earning a win against a strong opponent, they earn more points than for an easy win. If a player under-performed by getting upset, they lose more points than for losing to an equal opponent.
• Elo ratings can be surface-adjusted, taking into account all of a player’s matches, but weighing those on the specific surface more heavily.
• Elo ratings of players absent from competition for more than three months are deducted 100 points. Walkovers and retirements are excluded.
• Players earn/lose more points for results over the same opponents at Grand Slams compared to lower-level tournaments.
The Game Insight Group, formed by Tennis Australia in partnership with Victoria University, is a team of experts revolutionising tennis through science.