Team World focused on the task ahead
The grandeur of Friday’s occasion at Laver Cup London 2022 was not lost on Team World’s Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe.
The Americans will feature on the other side of the net when Roger Federer contests the final match of his career, alongside fellow tennis behemoth Rafael Nadal, in front of about 20,000 fans at The O2 Arena.
No, of course it won’t be just another outing.
“It’s going to be iconic to be part of that,” said Tiafoe. “Both guys are absolute legends, and it’s obviously Roger’s last dance.
“Beyond iconic,” was how Sock put it. “I’m just stoked to be a part of it with my guy Foe next to me.”
Simply sharing the stage with Federer and Nadal doesn’t suffice for Sock and Tiafoe, however.
They seek victory and the accompanying one point, 12 months after Team World’s lone point at Laver Cup Boston came in the same evening slot.
No one is second-guessing Sock’s pedigree. A three-time Grand Slam men’s doubles winner, the 29-year-old dually owns the most wins in Laver Cup doubles history with seven.
The O2 is sure to stir up fond memories. Sock claimed the doubles crown at the ATP Finals here in 2018, having landed in the singles field a season earlier thanks to a late flourish at the Paris Masters.
Tiafoe enters high on confidence, reaching a maiden Grand Slam singles semifinal at the US Open and stretching eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz to a fifth set.
“I hopefully can do my part and contribute in the doubles, obviously one of the bigger reasons why I’m here,” said Sock.
“But I also feel like I have played some great tennis in singles this year. Not going to count myself out by any means in that.”
Indeed, Team World captain John McEnroe would like nothing more than Sock contributing two points Friday.
He open’s Friday’s afternoon session against US Open finalist Casper Ruud in a maiden meeting, before Team World’s Diego Schwartzman battles Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The evening session begins with home favorite Andy Murray bidding to level his head-to-head with Alex de Minaur at one win apiece. Expect some lung-busting rallies.
McEnroe, with his brother and Team World Vice Captain Patrick, are more determined than ever to end their opponents’ unbroken four-year reign.
“I’m always ready, I think the boys are ready,” he said, flanked by his team. “No one likes losing, least of all very competitive people that are on my left and right.
“I believe we are due. It’s been tough, obviously. Last year was a nightmare. We have been watching highlights from the other years. We know that we are up against it, but we are confident.”
“It’s just really unfortunate that four times Team World couldn’t get a win,” said Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was edged by Matteo Berrettini in Boston. “But last year I thought that again there were some really close matches, especially on the first day, like Diego and I.
“If this year these matches, just half of these matches can go on our side, it would be a different story. Then if we can win more, I think we will be very competitive.
“We have really good guys. Of course there are legends in front of us, of the game, but we are all young guys playing good tennis coming up, getting better and better each year. I think, yeah, this could be it.”
Could a lack of recent matches for Team World’s illustrious trio of Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal play a role? Perhaps.
One thing is for certain: McEnroe’s motivation is higher than the roof at The O2.
“If I was a player, I’d be super pumped up, because we haven’t won this as a team, and I did love team events,” he said.
“’Enough is enough’ would be the mantra. This format is suitable for us. So there is no reason why we can’t or shouldn’t win this at this point.
“Obviously if you look at the rankings, we’re the underdogs. That goes without saying. That’s been that way from the beginning.
“But if you can’t get up for an event like this with the upside of what you’re going to get in terms of recognition, everything about it, it would be crazy.”