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LAVER CUP When Rafa cheered for Roger

The inaugural edition of the Laver Cup went to Team Europe, with one of the tallest legends of tennis, Roger Federer, leading them to glory in the very last game against Nick Kyrgios, of Team World, discusses Sridhar Venkatesh.

Tennis is the type of sport where surprise upsets are quite endemic. Every now and then, a top-seeded player falls prey to a much lower-ranked – sometimes even unseeded – newcomer, very much in a David vs Goliath fashion. Argentine, Juan Martin del Potro, sent world no. 2 Roger Federer packing in the quarterfinals of this year's US Open. The runner-up at the Flushing Meadows, to everyone's surprise, was 28th seeded South African Kevin Anderson, who beat higher-ranked players such as, Sam Querrey and Pablo Carreño Bust, on his way to the finals. At the Wimbledon Championship in July, world no. 1 Rafael Nadal could not replicate the same demolishing strokes he had displayed just a month prior, when he lifted the French Open trophy. He was knocked out in the fourth round by Luxembourg's Gilles Müller, who is currently ranked 101 among all male tennis players. In the Australian Open, at the beginning of the year, defending champion Novak Djokovic was handed a shock defeat in only the second round by wildcard entry, Denis Istomin. Luckily for tennis aficionados, there is now a new tournament where such upsets will be few and rare, with mostly the top crop of tennis stars participating in the Laver Cup to be held each year.

Between September 22 and 24, the inaugural edition of the Laver Cup was played in the Czech capital, Prague, between two teams, one representing Europe and the other representing the Rest of the World. Organised in honour of 79-year-old Australian legend Rod Laver, the eponymous cup pits six top European male players against their counterparts from the rest of the tennis world. This year's edition saw Team Europe being led by former Swedish world no. 1 Björn Borg. His opposite number was most famous and long-time American rival John McEnroe, who led the Rest of the World side.
This unique tournament fulfilled the wishes of many tennis lovers by putting together traditionally rivals players on the same team. The teaming of Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal and Swiss maestro Roger Federer provided everyone with the rare sight that they had been yearning to witness for years. Other team-mates on Federer and Nadal's side included Croat Marin Čilić, Austrian Dominic Thiem, German wonder-boy Alexander Zverev and Czech Republic's own, Tomáš Berdych.
The Rest of the World side comprised of an equally talented, if not superior, side, with both experienced workhorses and dynamic youngsters. John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and teenager Francis Tiafoe were the four Americans on the side, along with Australian 'bad boy' Nick Kyrgios and Canadian youngster, Denis Shapovalov.
Day one began on a rather quiet note, with Čilić taking on teenage sensation Tiafoe in the first singles game of the tournament. Tiafoe – who entered the tournament as a last-minute replacement for Juan Martin del Potro – showed some flashes of brilliance. He fought till the end in each of the two sets but eventually went down fighting 7-6, 7-6 against the giant Croat. The win gave Team Europe its first point of the contest.
The second singles event saw 24-year-old Thiem taking on the world no. 17, John Isner. Once again, the contest was evenly fought, with the young Austrian winning the first set 7-6. Isner, however, came back strongly and won the second set with the same scoreline. As per the tournament rules, instead of a third set, a match tie-break took place, wherein the first player to reach ten points would be declared the winner. Isner initially raced to a 4-0 lead, but Thiem made a tremendous comeback to win the match 7-6, 6-7 (10-7), thus giving Team Europe its second point of the day.
The third singles game of the night saw Alexander Zverev face-off against 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov. This match was similar to the Čilić-Tiafoe game, with Zverev emerging victorious 7-6, 7-6. Europe was now 3-0 ahead of Rest of the World.
The final match of the day saw Nadal on the court, but in doubles action along with Tomáš Berdych, facing off against the pair of Nick Kyrgios and Jack Sock. Nadal and Berdych lost the first set 3-6 but fought back to take the second set with a 9-7 win, in the second set tiebreak. Though it seemed like Europe would win their fourth match, Sock-Kyrgios held their nerves to win the match tiebreak at 10-7. Day one ended with Europe's three points to World's one.
Day Two, where a win in each game would award two points to the winning side, finally gave audiences what they wanted, as Federer took on Sam Querrey in his first outing in the tournament. The Swiss genius comfortably outplayed Querrey 6-4, 6-2, but downplayed his win, saying that he wanted to quickly shower and get back to cheerleading Nadal whose match was next. Not in anyone's wildest dreams would Federer have made that statement, but that is what the Laver Cup was all about.
In his singles competition against Sock, Rafa comfortably took the first set at 6-3. Sock, however, returned the favour in the second set, winning by the same scoreline. His luck would, unfortunately, run out in the match tiebreak, where the Spaniard rallied deep into his inexhaustible resources of energy to win 11-9. Day Two now had produced four points for Europe, taking their tally to 7.
In match three, between hometown favourite Berdych and Kyrgios, Berdych took an early break and comfortably won the first set 6-4. Kyrgios, however, served well to take the second set to a tiebreaker, which he won 7-6. The young Aussie, known for his short temper and off-field antics, managed to keep his own in the match tiebreak, to win it at 10-6. This gave Rest of the World two much-needed points, taking the score to Europe seven and World three.
The final match of day two was definitely the most awaited match of the entire tournament. Federer and Nadal were playing doubles for the first time against Sock and Querrey. In the first set, Federer's lack of match doubles play was evident. But Rafa upped his game with excellent serves, volleys and solid play from the back of the court to take the first set 6-4. Bad play by both legends saw them losing the second set 1-6. The match tiebreak, however, saw them win all the relevant points to comfortably win it 10-5. The unlikely teaming up of two modern-day legends saw Europe end Day Two on nine points against World's three.
With Day Three matches having three points each, a seemingly unassailable lead of 9-3 for Europe suddenly turned into 9-6, as Isner and Sock played inspiring doubles to win against Berdych and Čilić at 7-6, 7-6. However, Zverev regained the lead for Europe, after a comfortable win over Querrey in straight sets, winning 6-4, 6-4. Europe were now 12-6 ahead, needing just one point to reach the magic number of 13 – the winning points tally. In his singles contest against Isner, Nadal was expected to walk over. However, the lanky American played some exceptional tennis to upset Rafa 7-5, 7-7 (7-1). The contest was now poised at 12 points for Europe against nine for Rest of the World.
Like a well-scripted thriller, everything came down to the last match. And Europe's hopes would rest on no one else, but the dependable shoulders of Roger Federer. If Federer won, then Europe would be champions. But if Kyrgios won, taking his side's tally to 12, the tournament would be decided in another final doubles match.
Kyrgios started strongly by winning the first set 6-4. The Swiss, though, levelled the match by winning the second set 7-6 (8-6). In the match tiebreak, Kyrgios was ahead and it looked like he would win. An inspired Federer, however, beat the odds – if there ever were any – to pull off some winners to take the tiebreak 11-9. And thus, the inaugural edition of the Laver Cup went to Team Europe, with one of the tallest legends of tennis leading them to glory.
Overall, the Laver Cup was a huge success especially with the points-format retaining the viewer's interest right until the very last match. With a lot of discussion on the fading interest for Davis Cup, maybe this format is something the Davis Cup organisers may consider looking at.
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