Team World has swept the highly fancied Team Europe on the final day of the Laver Cup in London with one match to spare to finally win its maiden trophy on their fifth attempt with a 13 – 8 score line.
While this year’s event will forever be known as the last time Roger Federer graced the court, Team World will remember it for their own reasons too.
After Novak Djokovic’s heroics on Saturday night, Team World’s chances of victory were looking bleak with John McEnroe’s men trailing Team Europe 8-4 and requiring three wins from four matches to take the title on Sunday with each match worth three points on the final day.
When the team line ups were revealed late on Saturday night more than a few eyebrows were raised when Team World’s Felix Auger-Aliassime was listed to play doubles first up alongside Jack Sock against Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray before then being required to play the dominant Novak Djokovic in the match immediately following.
The common fear was that if Team World did not take the doubles rubber, relying on a losing partner to then come out and try to beat the best singles player on earth would be a tall order with the entire event on the line.
However, it proved to be a stroke of genius from the Team World brains trust. Speaking after the victory celebrations, John McEnroe said he felt Felix was “ready to step up to the big time”.
Having lost the opening set of the doubles to a rampaging Andy Murray and Matteo Berrettini, Team World was on the brink of going down 11 – 4 with Novak Djokovic awaiting the young Canadian as they conferred with their Captain and teammates at the changeover.
A short pep talk and some encouragement was just what the doctor ordered. Team World broke early and went on to win the second set 6-3 before taking out the rubber 10-8 in the match tiebreaker – thanks, at least in part, to some uncharacteristic serving errors from the Team Europe pair.
American Jack Sock later spoke of the need to calmly ride the bumps and wait for Team Europe’s level to drop to keep Team World in with a chance.
“It felt great, obviously. I think we all know the importance of that match to start the day. Being behind 11-4 would have been, safe to say, a difficult battle to come back from.
“Yeah, we just turned it around. I mean, JMac was obviously staying positive the whole time on the bench. Felix and I were trying to pump each other up.
“They came out extremely hot. We just kind of had to ride the storm, obviously, raise our level, and we were able to do that throughout the second and third.”
Meanwhile, as Sock was dissecting the win with the press, teammate Felix Auger-Aliassime had already gone back out for battle against Novak Djokovic on a slow hard court – comfortably one of the least enviable tasks in tennis.
Yet, Auger-Aliassime, who had clearly played himself into form in the back half of the doubles, came from a break down in the first set to take a 6-3 lead over the in-form Djokovic who looked to be playing with something of a wrist injury.
Not done there, Auger-Aliassime held his nerve to close out the rubber and his first win over Djokovic 6-3, 7-6.
The win put Team World in a commanding position leading 10-8 and on the brink of victory.
At the time, the Canadian was thrilled with his efforts but remained focused on the task at hand as teammate Frances Tiafoe stepped out on the court against world number 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas who had demolished Diego Schwartzman on day one.
“Yeah, it felt great, for sure. You know, one of my best wins so far, for sure, in my career. You know, to back it up after the doubles, it was super important for the team,” Auger-Aliassime said.
“But at the same time, you know, the competition is not over. We came here with one goal was to win it all, and now we have a good chance, yes, but the work is not
“Personally, of course, I'm happy, and it feels good. But it will feel even better if we can win the whole thing.”
On the losing side of the net, Djokovic himself admitted he was playing injured but tipped his cap to the young Canadian for his showtime efforts.
“I have been struggling with my right wrist for the last four, five days, to be honest,” Djokovic revealed.
“I have been keeping it under control. The two matches yesterday probably had an effect.
Today was not easy. I couldn't serve as fast or as accurately as I would like to. That has affected the whole game. He was serving extremely well.
“Of course I'm not taking anything away from his performance. It was outstanding, big serving, and very solid from back of the court.
“You know, he deserved to win, no doubt.”
What remained was two matches with Team World needing one win and Team Europe requiring two.
Only one was required.
American Frances Tiafoe withstood a near-perfect first set of tennis from Stefanos Tsitsipas who dominated the US Open semi-finalist 6-1 with 13 winners without a single unforced error in 23 minutes.
Despite the slow start, “Big Time Foe” as his teammates repeatedly called him at their celebratory press conference, would not yield. He found a way to stay in the second set despite Tsitsipas comfortably looking the better player until the players locked horns at 6-all for a tiebreaker.
What ensued was some of the most remarkable tennis a fan could ask for with the heavily pro-Team Europe crowd begging their charger to keep the Laver Cup alive.
Two tiebreakers and four match points saved later, Big Time Foe found a way against Tsitsipas and collapsed to the ground as Tsitsipas’ last forehand found its way into the net. The score would read 1-6, 7-6(11), 10-8.
While Tsitsipas may feel short-changed having won 81 points to Tiafoe’s 63, Tiafoe had delivered his captain his first Laver Cup some six years and five tournaments since its inception with a 13-8 victory for Team World.
Celebrating with a beer in hand, John McEnroe echoed a famous quote to declare that no team beats Team World five times in a row.
“That reminds me of my late great buddy, Vitas Gerulaitis, who made the greatest quote in sports history: ‘No one beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.’
“This is amazing. I think it's great obviously for us. It's great for me. It's great for the event.
“Thank you, Rod Laver, and thank you, Roger Federer, for putting this together. It's a tremendous event. Hopefully it will become even greater in the future. I think people got a pretty indication of why it is such a great event this weekend.”
As for his efforts, Tiafoe said he was thrilled to be able to bring Team World its first piece of silverware and suggested that he relished the challenge of being able to test himself against Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas with it all on the line.
“I mean, to do it here in Laver Cup, win for the first time, how bad Mac wanted it, how bad everybody else wanted it. Seeing what Felix did and Jack, I thought it was just time. It was time to get it done.
“You know, I see Stef across the court and I'm, like, I'm licking my lips playing that guy. I want to win. So, yeah, I'm just happy I got over the line.
“Yeah, I just want to see where my level is at when I play against him. He's a tough cookie, so it was good to get over the line.”
The Laver Cup moves to Vancouver in 2023 and Berlin in 2024.