Preview: Rublev, Ruud Look to Get Team Europe On the Board
These are uncharted waters for John McEnroe. In the five previous Laver Cup competitions dating back to 2017, Team World had never won the opening match. That includes 2022, when his squad finally dethroned Team Europe in London.
“We never had a lead, so, needless to say, this is a good feeling,” effused McEnroe on Friday at Rogers Arena, where Team World swept the proceedings to move ahead, 4-0.
Not that he’s counting his chickens just yet. McEnroe knows good and well that Laver Cup leads can vanish in a heartbeat.
“Having been able to come back and having had some close encounters, we know that the first day is the first day,” he said. “But we’ve got some young blood, some new blood, and a good mix with what we have and some people that were there last year. I think it’s just a great team energy. It feels awesome so far.”
“We’ll see what happens. We’re early. This is early, very early.” – John McEnroe
McEnroe’s Team Europe counterpart, Bjorn Borg, will look to make up the lost ground on Saturday when he sends the Top-10 duo of No. 6 Andrey Rublev and No. 9 Casper Ruud into action in singles.
Match 1: Andrey Rublev (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World)
Only eight days separate these fellow 25-year-olds, who have been going at each other since they were highly touted juniors. They’ve now faced off on seven occasions at the ATP Tour level, with Fritz holding a slight 4-3 advantage in the head-to-heads. After three straight losses, Rublev claimed their most recent encounter, a 5-7 6-1 6-3 semifinal comeback earlier this year on clay in Monte-Carlo, where he went on to capture his first ATP Masters 1000 title. It’s a quick turnaround for the nine-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, who joined Team Europe’s Arthur Fils in doubles on Friday night (l. to Frances Tiafoe/Tommy Paul, 6-3 4-6, [10-6]). Rublev and Fritz boast two of the biggest forehands in the game; a weapon they’re sure to go to time and again on Day 2.
Match 2: Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Tommy Paul (Team World)
There always seems to be a lot on the line when these two meet up. Three of their four career encounters have come on the Grand Slam stage, with Ruud claiming wins in Melbourne, Paris and Flushing Meadows. But Paul is a different player in 2023. In January, he became the first American man to reach Australian Open semis since Andy Roddick in 2009. In August, he jumped to a career-high No. 13 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings after defeating then-No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 semi in Toronto. A two-time major finalist last year, Ruud is coming off a disappointing US Open, where he suffered a second-round loss to China’s Zhang Zhizhen, 6-4 5-7 6-2 0-6 6-2. Norway’s all-time greatest player will be looking for a reset on Day 2 in Vancouver.
Match 3: Hubert Hurkacz (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World)
Hurkacz, the soft-spoken 6-foot-5 Pole with a penchant for fast cars, will bring his heavy serve and standout defensive skills into this intriguing matchup with US Open quarterfinalist Frances Tiafoe, who’s competing in his fourth Laver Cup. Hubi holds a 3-2 career edge, having claimed their last three meetings, including a 7-6(9) 3-6 6-3 second-round decision last year in Vienna. But if anyone gets up for high-stakes, high-energy occasions like these, it’s Big Foe, who delights in crowd-engaged environments.
Match 4: Hubert Hurkacz/Gael Monfils (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime/Ben Shelton (Team World)
Hurkacz will go directly from the singles court to the doubles court when he teams with the veteran Frenchman Monfils in the Saturday nightcap. The Montrealer Auger-Aliassime and American Shelton will have the crowd on their side as they try to snatch two more points for the defending champion Team World.