Ruud strikes first for Team Europe
Team Europe’s Casper Ruud has secured the first point of Laver Cup 2021 over American Reilly Opelka at Boston’s TD Garden on Friday.
In a showdown between debutants, the Norwegian posted a 6-3 7-6(4) victory to hand the defending champions a 1-0 lead.
It was a welcome omen for the men in blue. They had claimed the opening point in all three previous editions en route to the trophy.
“I was quite nervous in the beginning. It’s a big stadium, a big crowd,” Ruud said. “You know, you get chills when you walk on court. You have the intro, the music, seeing all the legends, but luckily I handled it well. I got an early break, which calms the nerves down a little bit.
“I was just trying to enjoy the moment and try to play without pressure. It was a very good match for me.”
The team event’s namesake, Rod Laver, arrived on the signature black court to a rousing ovation for the opening ceremony as captains Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe and their respective teams gathered shoulder to shoulder.
When play began, Ruud raced out of the blocks with the first break in hand for 2-1 and after he held a game later, the camera panned to a surprise visitor courtside.
It drew a huge roar and a standing ovation from the packed arena as Roger Federer stood to acknowledge the reception.
“I think we’ve all missed him for the past months since Wimbledon so it’s great to see him back in a tennis arena,” Ruud said.
It only served to inspire the world No.10, who had taken the honors in both prior tour-level clashes with Opelka, including in Cincinnati last month.
The American was left to rue a missed return on a second serve for the chance to peg back the break. It proved costly as a wayward backhand volley and misguided overhead surrendered the opening set.
Sensing the need to rally his teammate, Nick Kyrgios rose to his feet and urged the fans to get behind their home charge. Opelka responded as he brought up two more break points at 3-all, but again Ruud was up to the task.
If Opelka was to extend his stay on Day 1 it looked increasingly likely it would have to come via a tiebreak and when he clocked a 141mph ace on his way to leveling at 6-all, commentator Jim Courier could not contain his astonishment.
“I think I heard a sonic boom,” Courier said.
Ruud remained unflappable as he dominated to avoid the shootout of a deciding match tiebreak.
“I tried to stay in on the first serve and block the return, try to neutralize his serve,” Ruud said. “That’s the only thing you can try to do. I know that from the baseline I’ve been playing well here all week… It was super fun and I feel very happy to get Europe off to a good lead.”