Day two in Prague. The Laver Cup produced entertaining tennis among the youngsters on Friday. On Saturday, it would up the level both in the quality of the participants and the quality of play. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal finally stepped into action on day two. They also gave us – finally – the doubles team match of our lives. It was well worth watching and these takeaways, are well worth sharing.
The European domination continues
There’s no way around saying this. Team Europe has better tennis players than Team World. The domination continued on Saturday, as Roger Federer slowly but surely deconstructed Sam Querrey’s game. The American put up a competitive fight in the first set, but by the second set, Querrey had hit his ceiling. Roger? He was just getting warmed up. This was the only match that wouldn’t go the distance in the Laver Cup’s unique scoring format. Still, it was punctuated by the same trends we saw on Day one. Team World’s players are gifted and have the game to push Team Europe’s best for a while, but ultimately when the pressure level rises, Team Europe’s more complete game and class, takes over.
If there were subtle pressure points in the Federer – Querrey match, there were massive pressure moments in Rafael Nadal’s sizzling exchange with Jack Sock. Sock, the Nebraskan with a club level backhand, massive serve and an unorthodox wristy forehand that gives the visual effect of him swatting a fly rather than the ball, gave Nadal and team Europe real cause to worry. After losing a fairly competitive first set, Jack Sock won the second set by taking his backhand out of the equation during their rallies. He put his forehand in play and tested the legendary defense of the legendary Spaniard. The change in tactic ultimately paid off, with Sock taking the second set.
I have noticed something very unique and beautiful about the Laver Cup. With such a close match scheduling, it has – perhaps unknowingly – brought to the fore, the contrasting styles of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. In Federer’s match, we could see the completeness of the Swiss’s game. We could see the ease with which he maneuvered his way around Sam Querrey’s weapons, neutralizing them one after the other, before ripping him apart in the second set. With Nadal, we saw a ruthless warrior who will slash away at your weakness until your entire game breaks. We also saw Nadal’s philosophy in his game. He comes in ready for a fight. He comes in knowing that his intensity and willingness to pound away at his opponent, no matter how well they are playing, is a relentlessness that can hardly be stopped. Sometimes it takes longer than expected, but he eventually gets the desired result.
John McEnroe had to watch in quiet agony, as another Team World player fell at the hands of a Team Europe player.
The FEDAL Team is born
At least for once in our lifetime, we saw Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play together in a competitive doubles match – even if it was an exhibition. These guys were playing to win. Their opponents were no pushovers either. Sam Querrey and Jack Sock are two of the biggest hitters in the game today and Sock is a very accomplished doubles player. This was never going to be an easy task for a pair of players, playing together for the first time, even if their names are Federer and Nadal.
Yet this was one of those feel-good moments in the history of tennis. September 23, 2017. A day that will be remembered in history as the day these two colossal icons of the sport, shared the same side of the court against a formidable doubles team and won. It was definitely fun to watch. While Federer and Nadal did not put up a vintage doubles display – they were trounced 6 – 1 in the second set – it was very interesting to see the combined greatness of these two, subdue the doubles efficiency of Sock and Querrey.
Make no mistake, Nadal and Federer won this by displaying enough flashes of individual brilliance, while working out the kinks of reading each other’s decision-making. That latter part of the strategy was perhaps made easier by the fact that these two know each other so well. Federer’s movement to his right at the net, put him in position to slap away a couple of sharp volleys. However, that movement to his right was based on his knowledge that Nadal loves to whip his lefty forehand into his opponent’s backhand – Federer should know this more than anyone. He also knows that shot will get a weak response more times than not. Nadal was also quick to recognize when Federer would go for the wicked slice serve out wide and cut off the angle. That serve has given Nadal nightmares in the past. For once, the very weapons that these two have used to hurt each other were used to elevate the other’s game at the crucial moments when they needed it.
The celebration at the end is an image that will be burned into the history books.
I was right about Nick Kyrgios
On Friday, I said Nick Kyrgios needed to step up, pointing out that he was perhaps the most dangerous player in Team World. Boy did he step up. Tomas Berdych came out inspired to keep the Team Europe freight train moving and he played inspired tennis in front of a home crowd, in Prague. It was clear to see right from the off, that this was a match Tomas was set on winning. His raw power off the ground was in full assault mode and he made Nick Kyrgios – a power player himself – look like a defensive retriever for most of the match. Yet when Kyrgios looked all but knocked out, he did something I never thought I’d say about him. He dug deep and played some of the most inspired tennis I have ever seen him play. He didn’t wait for the talent to come to him. He went out, found it and used it to fight out the win. This match was crucial for Team World, and Kyrgios delivering when put on the spot should do wonders for his confidence even after this tournament ends. Once again, he has shown us the enormous potential for greatness he has. We can only hope that this tournament puts things in perspective for him.
We’ve got one more day of the Laver Cup to go. Can Team World mount the mother of all comebacks? Let’s see what the final day has in store for us.