A fantastic evening for Novak Djokovic put Team Europe two wins away from retaining the Laver Cup on the final day of the three-day competition.
Djokovic produced one of his most impressive performances of the year defeating Francis Tiafoe 6-1 6-3 in the singles, and after just 20 minutes he was back on the court to partner Matteo Berrettini to beat Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock. 7-5 and 6-2 in a match that could be decisive for the outcome of the weekend.
With Sunday’s four points tallied to three each, Europe’s 8-4 lead isn’t impervious, but that does mean Team World must win three of the remaining four games to prevent the Europeans from lifting the Laver Cup for the fifth time in a row.
He may have left the tour over the past 11 weeks, but Djokovic is right back where he left off in the Wimbledon final, providing a great lesson in beating Tiafoe in just 72 minutes. He looked really sharp from the first point, and worked great – he’s lost just seven points in eight service games, all in the second set. It seemed as if he had never gone away.
It was as if the Serb wanted to make an emphatic statement on the tennis tour. He started the year at the top of the standings, but missed two of his four Grand Slam tournaments this year despite his full fitness and frontline favourite. His decision not to take the Covid-19 vaccine came at a personal cost, but now he’s back on the tour after being denied entry to America for the US Open, a subliminal message “Don’t count me” about his impressive showing.
From the first two points it was clear that Djokovic was hitting the ball beautifully and moving gracefully from side to side and from the back of the field to the net. It took a stunning back pass from Tiafoe in the second half to score his first point, which in itself was a warning about how difficult Djokovic can be sent off.
Tiafoe made his first serve match, but lost his next three matches, with Djokovic winning the first set in 23 minutes after winning all 16 points on his serve. He continued the streak to 18 before Tiafoe finally won. The American got his only match-breaking point in that match, but he was already late, and when Djokovic avoided the threat to hold out 3-1, Tiafoe became visibly frustrated.
To have any chance, Tiafoe needed a good serve, and too many first serves went for big points. But the way Djokovic was playing it’s hard to see how Tiafo could have done anything to change the fate of the match, and Djokovic took the win by breaking Tiafoe for the fourth time in eight matches. The only thing that went wrong for Djokovic was the ‘tweener’ attempt which went so badly that he waved at him in disgust.
“I’m really happy to keep running,” Djokovic told the crowd, referring to his last Wimbledon match. “I played a good game, I could see the ball well. It was a really emotional day yesterday, it was not easy to start the engine today, but I am very happy with the way I played.”
Djokovic continued his brilliant performance in the doubles. He and Berrettini had never teamed up before, but they played a front and back strategy that saw plenty of lateral moves both in the net and back of the field, looking like a masterful pair. Djokovic was the architect of the victory, but Berrettini was very solid in his defensive balls and added extra fervor in serve.
Speaking Italian among themselves, as Djokovic is fluent in what is his third language, the European pair could have won more easily than they did. They had a set point at 5-2 initially, but eventually won it with a superb hemisphere backhand from Djokovic which shows his confidence and his growing enjoyment of the match. With Sock playing well below his usual level, the US-Australian duo were broken twice in the second set, with Sock only falling to his third defeat in 11 Laver Cup doubles in 81 minutes of play. “Everyone is talking about Novak coming out, but there was no rust,” said Seok sadly.
Djokovic judged the mood in commenting the audience on Roger Federer’s emotional farewell in the early hours of Saturday morning. He said, “It was one of the most beautiful moments I have ever had, and it was an honor to be a part of it. It was the moment that I was really emotional when I saw his children tear up, because I know the sacrifices that the closest people to us make to play this game.”