October 24, 2021

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Laver Cup – Day 1 Roundup

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

After Day 1 of the 2021 Laver Cup in Boston, Team World trails powerhouse Team Europe 3-1.

Although it could have been so much closer.

Two of the three singles matches came down to the wire, with members of Team World coming oh-so close before finally conceding.

Here are the final results from Friday’s action:

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Casper Ruud def Reilly Opelka 6-3, 7-6 (4)
Matteo Berrettini def Félix Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (3), 7-5, [10-8]
Andrey Rublev def Diego Schwartzman 4-6, 6-3 [11-9]
Denis Shapovalov / John Isner def Matteo Berrettini / Alexander Zverev 4-6, 7-6 (2) [10-1]

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And here’s a running thread of thoughts, quotes and tidbits from Day 1.

(All screenshots from TSN, except where indicated).

Mikes are open, fellas

The fact that the Laver Cup isn’t an official tournament gives the organizers leeway to do things they can’t do at regular ATP Tour events.

(Why they don’t take a page out of the LC playbook and do some of them is a discussion for another day).

Beyond the “behind the scenes” stuff, the fact that the microphones around the court are even more open than usual can lead to some … things.

Shapovalov spills the tea about an exchange at the net with Alexander Zverev.

The players are aware of it. But they’re not used to it. And they’re in the heat of the competition. So they forget.

Following the impressive comeback in doubles by Team World – led by an absolutely incandescant John Isner – to win the final match of the day Friday night, there was this exchange.

Around that same time, there was a … rather stern exchange between partners Matteo Berrettini and Alexander Zverev about … something.

Berrettini and Zverev … discussed things after letting a huge lead slip away in Friday’s doubles.

At one point, Zverev looked annoyed as he replied to someone saying, “We lost the match.” (Perhaps it was in connection with a media request. Hard to say).

It was a look behind the curtain, in the wake of Zverev’s blanket denials of the accusations of abuse made by ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova in a series of two articles authored by Ben Rothenberg.

Shapovalov confirmed it in press.

(The fact that the tours continue to refuse to allow journalists to interview players on site, despite welcoming big crowds to the tournaments, is a big reason there has been little reaction from the players about this over the last few months).

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Tough opening matches for Team World

It’s a fact that 21-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime, ranked No. 11 in the world, is ranked lower than all of the players on the Team Europe roster.

A powerhouse lineup for Team Europe (LaverCup.com)

The squad has every available top-10 player from Europe. And the three players unavailable because of injury – Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer – are also from Europe.

Team World doesn’t have that luxury. And it’s not as though anyone is missing.

They have five of the top seven eligible players, with clay-courter Cristian Garin and Aussie Alex de Minaur missing.

Dan Evans (since Great Britain is no longer part of Europe, right?) would have been next. Then Cameron Norrie (who, ironically, is a practice partner for … Team Europe).

The sixth player is Nick Kyrgios. Despite his fall in the rankings, this is his favorite event of the year and he has always given it his everything in previous editions.

Still, with the shortened format (a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set), the support of the American crowd and all the other intangibles, “Team World” always has a chance. They have not, in the previous three incarnations, been about to convert their obvious chemistry.

And on Friday, after a relatively routine 6-3, 7-6 (4) win by Casper Ruud over Reilly Opelka, luck didn’t go their way.

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Berrettini overcomes Auger-Aliassime

Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime, the top-ranked player on the team but making his Laver Cup debut against a good friend he’d already faced twice this year, fell just short against Matteo Berrettini.

The key in the 6-7 (3), 7-5, [10-8] loss was Auger-Aliassime failing to serve out the first set at 5-3.

He did manage to eke out the set. But the momentum had shifted. Auger-Aliassime also had a shot at 5-5 in the second set. And when he couldn’t convert that, he was immediately broken for the set. That’s been a not-unusual pattern for the Canadian, and a reminder that even as high as he has risen in the rankings, he’s still only 21 with a lot to learn about pressure situations.

But in that first set, the Auger-Aliassime had all the momentum.

“If I was going to pinpoint something, it would have been the 5-3 game in the first set. Because I just think once (Berrettini) got back into it, it became more of that sort of see-saw, back-and-forth battle as opposed to where he’d be feeling more pressure,” captain John McEnroe said afterwards. “No one ever knows. If he had won the set 6-3, maybe it would have been 7-6 in a tiebreak (in the second), but I think that sort of energized Berrettini.”

Auger-Aliassime didn’t disagree.

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Tough loss for Schwartzman

To follow up the Auger-Aliassime defeat, which put Team World down 0-2, Diego Schwartzman put up another incredible effort against world No. 5 Andrey Rublev.

Schwartzman was up a set. And he was up in the match tiebreak. But in the end, he lost it 11-9.

Match point was bad, and good, and great.

Rublev was relieved. Here’s how he described that final point.

“(It) was a crazy match point, but was crazy because of my mistakes. I had two easy volleys, and I choke another level to finish them. But, yeah, in my head, as soon as I catch the drop shot and I play really well with the forehand down the line, and I saw that I have a really great chances to finish at the net, I was thinking, ‘Please, just don’t miss, just make it no matter how, but make it.’ And of course I didn’t hit really hard. I just put it.

“And in the beginning I was thinking the ball goes out, but then suddenly it was in. I think I had even more easy shot and I get tight to finish it. I say, ‘Okay, just make these drop shots. And of course I make one balloon that I feel that Diego will catch easy. And as soon as he catch, I was thinking, for sure, to give you two chances to finish easy ball and you didn’t finish, the third one you should … But in the end, yeah, I make it and I finish it, and this is the most important thing.”

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Jack Sock – mask king

The mask wearing on the Team Europe and Team World benches on the first day was “Comme çi, comme ça“. (Given how much high-fiving and hugging and everything else is going on, it seems like it’s for show, more than anything).

But the most assiduous mask wear? Team World alternate Jack Sock.

Perhaps it’s unfair to him, but it’s a pleasant surprise. (His citizenship probably leads to unfair assumptions).

Auger-Aliassime, of course, was just as assiduous when he was on the bench. But that has always been true of him, throughout the pandemic. Same for vice-captain Patrick McEnroe.

The other element of Sock that emerged through the first day was that he offered some astute tactical advice and encouragement to Auger-Aliassime during his match against Berrettini.

The give-and-take between the players (more than with the captains) is the best part of Laver Cup.

Auger-Aliassime asked him about how he could play the big points better against Berrettini. And Sock (paraphrasing here), suggested he move back a bit to make sure he at least made the returns. He also praised his patterns of play.

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Finishing on the stroke of midnight

The 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. start times for Laver Cup are, in reality, merely a suggestion.

It takes awhile for the play to get under way.

But as long as the matches are taking, the notion of shortening the warmup to three minutes seems like a drop in the bucket.

Like, truly, what difference does it make?

The Ruud-Opelka match didn’t start until 1:20 p.m., and ended shortly before 3:10 p.m.

Diego Schwartzman’s match against Andrey Rublev, a 7 p.m. start, didn’t get under way until after 8 p.m. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

The Berrettini vs. Auger-Aliassime tussle, even with a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, took three hours.

It didn’t conclude until nearly 6:30 p.m.

That means the night session, scheduled for 7 p.m., was pushed back.

Schwartzman vs Rublev didn’t start until after 8 p.m. And the entire night concluded on the stroke of midnight.

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Oh hey, Roger!

If many appeared surprised that Roger Federer arrived in Boston for the opening matches, it’s unclear why.

Even Nick Kyrgios said, in an interview with French-Canadian rightsholder TVA Friday, that they knew he was coming.

As well, this is the first Laver Cup without Federer in the lineup. He is the presence that made the event happen in the first place, and has been crucial to its early success.

And with his management company, Team8, hugely invested in making this event a success, he’s going to do everything he can to help that process.

At the same time, it may not have been as easy a decision as all that. You know he’s dying to get out there.

The startup costs for the Laver Cup were pretty massive, even with infusions from the USTA, Tennis Australia and investor Jorge Lehmann.

It’s been a success in Prague, Chicago and Geneva. But progress towards being in the black was seriously stymied by the fact that the 2020 edition had to be cancelled because of the pandemic.

(Notably, this was only the third time Federer has Tweeted since mid-July, when he underwent a third surgery on his knee. The other two involved his foundation and a sponsor’s birthday wishes, probably handled by his people. He has seriously been off the grid).

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No refunds allowed

The conditions under which the extremely pricey Laver Cup tickets were sold are fairly onerous, considering we’re in a pandemic.

There wasn’t much time, once the 2020 tournament was cancelled, to make a decision about something that (hopefully) was going to be held 16 months later.

And once that decision was made, the options were limited.

Add to that the more recent restrictions on attendance (proof of vaccination, an antigen test within 24 hours or a recent negative PCR test), they seem all the more onerous.

Even kids aged 4-11 have to come armed with a negative test.

There may well have been people planning to travel from Europe to attend the event. But the restrictions by the U.S. on people coming in from Europe remain. They will only be lifted in November, and only for fully-vaccinated travelers.

In most cases, the ticket issuers retain a lot more rights than the ticket buyers. But given all of the unique conditions surrounding the event, it’s a tough one.

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We’ll have NO talk of Zverev

This is anecdotal, but there have been a number of people on social media who have found themselves blocked when they engaged the Laver Cup account in ANY mentions of Zverev’s off-court issues.

The catalyst for that was a Tweet with a quote from Zverev from the last edition of the event in 2019.

If you’re familiar with the Zverev situation, you know that some of the abuse alleged by his former girlfriend occurred during that event. And that she claims a Laver Cup official ended up getting involved.

At best, the Tweet was tone-deaf. At worst, it was oblivious.

And there were no shortage of replies.

The media side at the Laver Cup is being run by Tennis Australia, whose general approach is to make everything perfect and shiny at all times.

(That’s not a criticism; that’s basically their job).

Even when it’s less than shiny.

Mary Carillo, one of the highest-profile voices in American tennis, reportedly resigned from her gig this weekend, specifically stating the Zverev situation was the reason.

Block Button at the ready

And so those who reminded them of the drama that allegedly occurred in Geneva pointed out it – this being social media, that was inevitable.

They got blocked for their trouble.

And not just a few.

Zverev has steadfastly denied that any abuse of any kind occurred. He has lawyered up, and his people got an injuction against mention or publication of Rothenberg’s piece in his native Germany.

And Sharypova has chosen not to go to the police. Alleged abuse that occurs in a number of countries under different jurisdictions, at events run by three different stakeholders, feels like an onerous and very expensive proposition – even in the best-case scenario where women are believed.

And, as we know, that’s most often not the case.

The ATP has made a corporate decision not to get involved in an investigation of the allegations. I’s unclear, legally, what sway they can actually have over a player who is not an employee of the Tour, but an independent contractor.

In the end, the vast majority of fans inside TD Garden who paid big bucks to attend likely are unaware of all this, given the most buzz about it has occurred on social media. (Believe it or not, most people don’t spend much time on Twitter).

But the event should have had a better strategy in place long before the leadup. It’s not a new story. And to not expect a backlash – especially as this is an invitation event, with full sway over whom it invites, would be naive.

Blocking people on Twitter isn’t likely to hurt the bottom line, built upon ticket sales and television rights – and a laundry list of corporate sponsors, too.

But it’s not a great look.