Blue steel: Federer puts Europe ahead 10-8
Roger Federer saved three match points as he beat John Isner in a dramatic match to put Team Europe one win away from retaining the Laver Cup in Chicago.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion came through a pulsating encounter at the United Center 6-7(5) 7-6(6) 10-7 to give his side a 10-8 lead.
Alexander Zverev can take Team Europe to the winning 13-point mark if he beats Kevin Anderson in Match 11.
Federer steadied the European ship after he and Zverev had failed to convert two match points in Sunday’s opening doubles against Isner and Jack Sock.
That defeat meant the team in blue had seen a 7-1 lead turn into a 7-8 deficit, giving Team World and their home crowd real belief that they could complete a miraculous fightback.
It was still a tall order for Isner, who beat Rafael Nadal at the same stage last year, but he stuck to his game plan of big serves and short points, and Federer made little impact as they powered towards a tiebreaker.
From an early break down the American overhauled Federer with a rasping forehand return on set point that sparked pandemonium on the World bench, with Sock and Nick Kyrgios – both wearing Chicago Bulls jerseys – charging up to celebrate with Isner.
A sweeping forehand down the line and a backhand arrowed cross-court gave Federer the first two break points of the match at 3-3 in the second, but Isner slammed the door shut with some unreturnable serves.
Unable to get the breakthrough, Federer was increasingly vulnerable as the set progressed, and Isner almost capitalized when the Swiss first served to stay in the match.
Two blistering winners brought up match point but the American sent a loose forehand long and they headed into a second tiebreaker, with a potential 10-point match tiebreaker beyond that.
In a thrilling passage of play, Isner earned another two match points at 6-4 only for Federer to find an ace and then rip a spectacular backhand winner, and the Swiss went on to level with an ace.
World had now squandered six match points across the three days in Chicago and Federer made sure Europe took advantage once again, taking control from 5-5 in the decider and earning his first match points at 9-6.
Isner saw off the first with a deft volley but Federer clinched it with a forehand after almost two hours of gripping tension, and the Team Europe bench finally challenged their World rivals in the celebration stakes with a display of team press-ups.
Oh man, what a match, what a weekend. Thank you Chicago – Roger Federer
Asked if this kind of match was what he had envisioned at the Laver Cup, Federer joked: “I’m not sure if I wanted it to be that exciting but, oh man, what a match, what a weekend. Thank you Chicago.
“Regardless of what happens it’s been a successful week and weekend, we’ve loved it. I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come now.
“The good thing is we could lose the next one, so that takes the pressure off.”