Dimitrov strikes for Team Europe
Grigor Dimitrov got the first point on the board for defending champions Team Europe as Laver Cup 2018 got underway at Chicago’s United Center on Friday.
The Bulgarian beat Team World’s Frances Tiafoe 6-1 6-4 to give Europe a 1-0 lead, with 13 points the target to secure victory on Sunday.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Dimitrov, who had the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic supporting him from courtside.
“Usually we’re always against each other and now, these guys are actually cheering for me. It’s a nice feeling and I think it’s great for you guys to see that.”
Rod Laver, whose achievements have been honored by the creation of the Laver Cup, was given a standing ovation when he was presented to the crowd during the opening ceremony.
The great Australian was then joined by fellow tennis legends Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, captains of Team Europe and Team World respectively, before the 14 players gathered alongside them on the now familiar black court.
Once the action began, it was Laver Cup debutant Dimitrov who settled the quicker, finding an early groove on serve and pressuring Tiafoe.
The American had also played in the opening match of the inaugural Laver Cup in Prague 12 months ago, losing a thrilling contest in a final set tiebreak against Marin Cilic, but he was unable to take this one to the wire.
He fell behind in an early break when he netted a backhand and despite the encouragement of his home crowd, and a cry of “there it is!” from his teammates courtside, a chance to break back slipped by from deuce at 3-1.
Dimitrov got the blue side off the sofas and on their feet with sweeping forehand and backhand winners as he broke for 5-1, before hammering down a fifth ace to round out the set after 26 minutes.
Tiafoe managed to keep pace as the second set unfolded and provided the first moment this year that marked out the Laver Cup as different in its first edition, bringing the crowd to their feet and drawing wild celebrations from his team after winning an epic point at 3-2.
Captain McEnroe did his best to fire up the home crowd and Tiafoe celebrated with teammates Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock after recovering a break for 4-4, but there was to be no stopping Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian had been the stronger man for most of the hour played and the pressure told again when Tiafoe framed a forehand long to leave Dimitrov serving for the match – his 10th ace of the afternoon securing the opening point.
It will fall to another American, Sock, to try and get Team World back on level terms when he faces Team Europe’s Kyle Edmund in Match 2.
We knew it was going to be a tough match but he had a good day, played unbelievable – Bjorn Borg
“Grigor did play pretty well,” said Europe captain Borg. “We knew it was going to be a tough match but he had a good day, played unbelievable. We’re happy to have a lead but there’s a long way to go.”
Asked what he expected to achieve on day one, the Swede added: “Today, 4-0 hopefully. I’m just joking – I don’t think it’s going to happen, but just to get as many points as you can get.
“We have a great team spirit, we’re very close and that’s important. We have a lot of fun, hopefully that will get us some more points.”