Ruud wins the first point for Team Europe in opening thriller
Casper Ruud has given Team Europe the first point of Laver Cup 2022 but was pushed much harder than many expected, thanks to a ranking-defying performance by Team World’s Jack Sock.
Ruud posted a 6-4 5-7 10-7 victory in an hour and 47 minutes but faced the very realistic prospect of defeat early in the match tiebreak. So often Sock has played much better than his tour form suggests, and after a dismal start, the 128th-ranked American undermined the confidence of the world No.2 with some well-timed net rushes and exquisite drop shots.
As Sock grew into the match, so did the Team World players. In-form Frances Tiafoe twice raced off the bench to high-five Sock after a rousing point, and early in the second set Félix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz were deputed to restrain Tiafoe from another court invasion after Sock anticipated a Ruud cross-court volley to hit an exhilarating winner down the line.
“That’s one thing we do better than them,” said Sock after the match. “No disrespect to [Team Europe], but there’s a great spirit within our team, which is another reason why it stings even more that this one got away.”
Sock looked out of his depth after the first three games went to Ruud in a flash. The Norwegian broke in the second game as Sock’s big serve and heavily topspun forehand did nothing to hurt the US Open runner-up. At 3-0, a humiliation for the American could not be ruled out.
But Sock combined his big weapons to hold serve, and from there he grew into the match. He played an outstanding game at 3-5 to break back, ambushing Ruud with well-timed drop shots and backing them up with superb anticipation. But he couldn’t sustain it, and Ruud broke in the next game to take the set in 40 minutes.
On several occasions in the second set Ruud looked set to pounce, and at 5-4 15-30 on the Sock serve, he was two points from victory. But Sock had dented Ruud’s trust in his backhand; the Norwegian made an increasing number of errors, and a poor 11th game saw Ruud broken. Sock served out the set, and after 91 minutes, the match was all square.
When Sock led the match tiebreak 3-0, an upset was on the cards, but Ruud cut out the errors and took the following six points. The crucial point came at 7-6 for Ruud when Sock made a late decision to go into the net, tried a finely angled drop volley, only to see the ball strike the net cord and fall back to his side. What would have been 7-7 was suddenly 8-6; moments later, Ruud wrong-footed Sock to seal the victory and give Europe a 1-0 lead in the 12-match series.
Ruud admitted in his on-court interview that it had been “nerve-wracking at the start”, and acknowledged that his straight sets win over Reilly Opelka in last year’s opening Laver Cup match in Boston had been a real confidence boost for him. “This match was decided by a couple of points,” he said, “I think we both made mistakes we wouldn’t normally make, and this time the margins were on my side.”
Sock said, “I keep getting underestimated. Despite what my ranking says, I still feel I’m a pretty good tennis player. I lost to the world No.2 on a 10-7 tiebreak.”
Sock returns in Friday’s night session to partner with Frances Tiafoe against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Sock said he and Tiafoe would “allow Federer his moment and give him a big hug at the end, win or lose” but insisted the Team World pair would be no less competitive despite the enormity of the situation.