GENEVA, September 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Switzerland’s favorite son, Roger Federer, wanted nothing more than to win the Laver Cup in front of his home fans, who packed the Palexpo in Geneva 17,000 strong for a third straight day. His team still might achieve his wish.
The World No. 3 Federer beat John Isner, who at No. 20 was the top-ranked player for Team World, 6-4, 7-6 (3) in an elimination match with Team Europe on the brink of losing the Laver Cup for the first time in the three year history of the event, named after Hall of Fame great Rod Laver.
With ruthless efficiency, Federer rode the wave of Swiss cheers and kept his team’s hopes alive playing against one of the biggest serves in the history of tennis.
After winning the first set 6-4, Federer saved a set point at 5-6 in the second set – the first break point he faced all match – and forced a tiebreak. He knew he would need his best serves to pull out a victory and avoid a 10-point match tiebreak against Isner. The two had been engaged in a battle of big serves all afternoon – Federer finished with 12 aces while Isner fired 15.
In the tiebreak, from 3-all, Federer won the final four points of the match, then showed as much emotion as one may have ever seen from the 38-year-old, 20-time Grand Slam champion. Federer won 91 percent of his first serves – 40 of 44 – and saved the only break point he faced from Isner. He lost just nine points on his serve through the duration of the one hour and 25 minute match.
“It was crazy. Oh, my God, I lost my voice after the last scream,” said Federer during his post-match interview with Amazon Prime Video’s Mark Petchey. “I’m very excited. What an atmosphere. What a match. I’m thrilled I was able to give something back to the team after the tough tie-breaker and tough match with Dominic, and with Rafa on the sidelines after pulling out with his injury. I feel the camaraderie. To all of the people, Merci beaucoup!”
With Federer’s victory, it meant that Team Europe’s Alexander Zverev would take on Milos Raonic of Team World with three points going to the victor in the deciding match, guaranteeing the winner secures the required 13 points for overall victory. Both Zverev and Raonic lost their singles matches earlier in the event – Zverev to Isner and Raonic to Rafael Nadal.
Team Europe is attempting to win its third Laver Cup following victories in Prague (2017) and Chicago (2018), while Team World is aiming to win the trophy for the first time.
The dynamics of the final day at the Laver Cup changed with the withdrawal of Team Europe’s Nadal, who was originally picked to play doubles with Federer and singles against No. 27 Nick Kyrgios.
However, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg called upon a formidable replacement in World No. 5 Dominic Thiem to face Kyrgios. Only thing is Kyrgios didn’t end up playing. After the conclusion of doubles, which Isner and Jack Sock won over Federer and replacement Stefanos Tsitsipas, Team World captain John McEnroe dropped a bombshell by announcing that Kyrgios was not fit to play because of an injured shoulder. He would be replaced by unheralded Taylor Fritz, who lost his opening match on Friday against Tsitsipas.
While Kyrgios was expected to be fired up against Nadal, could he muster the same enthusiasm against Thiem, who won a dramatic match tiebreaker against Denis Shapovalov on Friday? We’ll never know.
What happened, instead, was the 30th-ranked Fritz, who didn’t practice on Saturday since he didn’t expect to play Sunday, rallied for a 7-5, 6-7 (3), 10-5 win over Thiem that pushed his team to an 11 points-to-7 lead over Team Europe. The 21-year-old American served 10 aces and saved seven of seven break points and handled the pressure superbly.
Earlier Sunday, Isner and Sock gave Team World its first lead of the 2019 Laver Cup with a 5-7, 6-4, 10-8 win over Federer and Tsitsipas, which was worth three points and put them ahead 8-7.
Now, with one match to go, between Zverev and Raonic, anything’s possible.
“He’s a great player, good guy, confident exactly the right amount,” said Federer in describing his teammate Zverev. “That’s what we need in a final in a match.
“All the matches have been so close. I’m sure this one is going to go to the wire too, but we’re ready to go.”
Team World captain McEnroe said: “Everybody’s pumped up and if you told me a week ago it was going to be 11-10, I’d have taken it.”