Berrettini Gives Team Europe Emotional Lift On Laver Cup Opening Day

Matto Berrettini (photo: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Team Europe’s Matteo Berrettini and Felix Auger-Aliassime of Team World, best of friends off the court and Top 20 foes on it, engaged in the longest battle in the four-edition history of the Laver Cup — two hours and 52 minutes – before a loud and enthusiastic TD Garden gathering in Boston, Mass., that included both the event’s namesake, Rod Laver, as well as one of its founders and stars, 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, in attendance.

Tied at a set each, the second match of the day came down to being decided by a 10–point match tie break that was eventually was won by the Italian. It broke more than a few hearts along the way.

On a day that was filled with drama not to mention star power, the World No. 7 Bertettini’s 6-7 (3), 7-5, 10-8 victory over World No. 11 Auger-Aliassime gave Team Europe its second win of the afternoon session and a 2-0 lead to build upon. Each match win on Friday was worth one point and Team Europe made each point it earned against Team World count. By the end of the day, Team Europe held a 3-1 advantage.

Berrettini saved 12 of the 13 break points he faced from Auger-Aliassime, and it came down to a backhand passing shot past the diving Canadian that gave him his third career victory against Auger-Aliassime in four meetings. He outpointed his opponent 71-59.

“I felt the match was really hard. Felix was playing really good, not giving me anything, no mistakes, serving really well,” Berrettini said during an on-court interview after his victory. “I felt a different energy. I was playing for my team, not just for myself. I felt great and they helped a lot.”

Then, during his press conference, Berrettini further explained his feelings. “It’s great to have teammates who encourage me,” he said. “Casper (Ruud) and Feliciano (Lopez) gave me some advice. This thing gives me a lot of energy and they maybe notice things that I don’t see from the pitch. I like playing in teams.”

Auger-Aliassime remained upbeat about his team’s prospects despite the tough loss. “Of course, it’s disappointing to lose. At the same time, it showed and reflected how much the team wants to win. It’s only the start of the weekend. We’ve got a lot of matches ahead. I’m sure we’re going to give it everything to win.”

Team World captain John McEnroe praised both players, calling their match: “One of the best matches bar none that I’ve ever seen played, absolutely just enthralling.”

Earlier, World No. 10 Casper Ruud got Team Europe on the scoreboard first with his 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Team World’s Reilly Opelka. Ruud saved all three of the break points he faced and held the 19th-ranked Opelka to just nine service aces during their hour and 46-minute match.

I was quite nervous in the beginning,” Ruud said during his on-court interview after his match. “It’s a big stadium, big crowd. You get chills when you walk on court. You have the intro, the music and seeing all the legends. But luckily I handled it well.”

Ruud broke Opelka twice in the opening set, including in the third game of the match, which gave him a needed boost.

“I got an early break, which kind of calms the nerves a little bit,” Ruud said. “I’m sure it was the same for Reilly, he’s playing at home. I was just trying to enjoy the moment and play without pressure. It was a very good match for me.”

Later, during the first match of the evening session, Team Europe’s Andrey Rublev rallied from a set down against World No. 15 Diego Schwartzman of Team World and won in match tie-break, 4-6, 6-3, 11-9, to further extend his team’s lead to 3-0. He triumphed on his second match point after squandering a 9-8 opportunity by double-faulting away his first match-point opportunity.

The World No. 5 Rublev put away the one hour and 50-minute third match with a winner that capped a 24-shot back-and-forth rally between the two competitors. It was a match that was characterized by fans chanting “Ole, ole, ole, Diego, Diego,” in support of Schwartzman, and with some urging from Team World’s Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and Jack Sock, they did the wave, too.

“It’s amazing. I know most of the people were supporting Diego, which is normal because he is from Team World,” Rublev said during his on-court interview. “But the atmosphere was amazing. I want to say thank you so much for coming to support your favorite players, your favorite teams. This means a lot to us.”

In looking back at how the match ended, Rublev described it this way: “When you play a super match tie-break, you never know what’s going to happen. It was so close. Diego was leading all the super tie-break, but in the end, I found a way to win. It happens, this is tennis, this is sport. It’s emotions. Someone has to win, someone has to lose.”

Finally, Team World garnered its first point of the competition just before midnight as Isner and Denis Shapovalov beat Berrettini and Alexander Zverev of Team Europe, 4-6, 7-6 (2), 10-1, to keep from being down 0-4 after the first day. Instead, Team Europe will go into Saturday’s second day where the point values for each win are doubled, hoping to build upon its 3-1 lead.

“You cannot ask for a better start in Laver Cup,” Team Europe’s captain Bjorn Borg said, summing up his and his team’s feelings. “But, like I said, there’s a long way to go.”

Moselle Open: No. 1 seed Hurkacz holds off Murray

Top seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland reached the ATP 250 Moselle Open semifinals in Metz, France, with a 7-6 (4), 6-3 win over 116th-ranked wild card Andy Murray on Friday afternoon. It’s the fourth time that the World No. 13 Hurkacz has advanced to the semifinal round of an ATP Tour tournament this season.

Murray, appearing in his first ATP Tour-level quarterfinal this season following wins over Ugo Humbert of France and Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, saved the first two match points he faced from Hurkacz before succumbing on the third.

Hurkacz hit 13 aces, won 83 percent (45 of 54) of his first-serve points and saved all four break points he faced from the Briton during their one hour and 50-minute match inside Les Arenes de Metz. The victory improved Hurkacz’s win-loss record to 27-16 this season.

“Andy is a tough competitor, he’s achieved so much throughout his career,” Hurkacz said during an on-court interview in praise of Murray.  “He’s coming back from a tough injury and playing at a very high level. So, he is amazing and you can be inspired by his results [this week].”

Meanwhile, after the match, Murray said during his news conference: “My goal is not to get back in the Top 100. I want to get back into the Top 10 – [that] would be more something that would motivate me in terms of the goal.

“Winning tournaments and getting up towards the top of the rankings is motivating me. The Top 100, it doesn’t. It’s this weird thing – I don’t know why it’s considered such a huge milestone.”

Next, Hurkacz will face No. 101 Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, who advanced 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 over No. 69 Marcos Giron of the United States for his ninth win in his last 10 on hard courts.

Also, advancing to the semifinals were: No. 3 seed Gaël Monfils of France, ranked 20th, who defeated No. 36 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, 6-3, 6-3, to earn his first semifinal berth since February of 2020; and No. 2 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, who held off 133rd-ranked Danish qualifier Holger Rune, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, to reach his sixth semifinal of the season. The loss kept Rune from reaching his first ATP Tour-level semifinal.

“He is playing really well, he is going to improve a lot in the next months,” Carreno Busta said during an on-court interview after beating Rune. “I am happy as it was a very important victory for me. When you play this kind of player you have all the pressure to win and at the end it was a really good battle.”

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