Team World had its chances, but it was Team Europe taking the early lead in the 2021 Laver Cup after the opening day of play on Friday in Boston.
As was also the case in 2017, 2018 and 2019, Team Europe leads 3-1 heading into Day 2 of the competition, after Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini escaped from losing positions to win their singles matches at TD Garden.
Team World's John Isner and Denis Shapovalov delivered their team a much-needed point after winning the evening’s final doubles match.
It concluded at midnight local time, with Isner and Shapovalov combining to beat Berrettini and Alexander Zverev 4-6 7-6(2) [10-1] in front of a high-energy crowd.
In singles, Argentine Diego Schwartzman pocketed the opening set against Rublev and led 6-2 and 8-5 in the match tiebreak, only for the Russian to storm back.
Fifth-ranked Rublev won four straight points to arrive at match point, shrugging off a double fault on his first to eventually seal a 4-6 6-3 [11-9] win.
“Today we are a bit more lucky; Matteo won a tough match against Felix in a super tiebreak, now you saw my match,” said Rublev after pushing Team Europe’s lead to 3-0.
“It was so close; Diego was leading all the super tiebreak, but in the end I find a way to win.
“This happens. This is tennis, this is sport. It’s emotions. Someone has to win, someone has to lose.”
Earlier, Team World’s Felix Auger-Aliassime had Berrettini on the ropes in a taut encounter, earning two break points in the penultimate game of the second set which would have earned him a chance to serve out a straight-sets win.
But Berrettini escaped, broke Auger-Aliassime in the following game to force a match tiebreak, and rebounded from 5-7 down to out-steady the Canadian.
At two hours and 52 minutes, it was the longest Laver Cup match in the competition’s four-year history.
“It was a tough battle against a good friend,” said Berrettini, who has now beaten Auger-Aliassime in two of their three meetings in 2021.
“I felt that the match was really hard. Felix was playing really good, not giving me anything. No mistakes, serving really well.
“I felt a different energy, playing for my team (and) not just myself, for my family that is just there (watching). I felt great and they helped me a lot.”
"One of the best matches bar none that I've ever seen played, absolutely just enthralling."@JohnMcEnroe has high praise for the battle between @felixtennis and @MattBerrettini. #LaverCup pic.twitter.com/o5szuSl8Ms— Laver Cup (@LaverCup) September 24, 2021
Norway’s Casper Ruud opened the day’s play with an assured 6-3 7-6(4) victory over fellow Laver Cup debutant Reilly Opelka.
Ruud, a recent entrant into the world’s top 10, maintained Team Europe’s unblemished history of winning the opening match of each edition of the Laver Cup.
“I handled it well, I got an early break which kind of calms the nerves down a little bit,” he said.
“I was just trying to enjoy the moment and tried to play without pressure. It was a very good match for me.”
Team Europe vice captain Thomas Enqvist added: “I have to say I was very impressed about Casper’s performance. It‘s very difficult to play the first match … it’s a huge event, there’s a lot of people, a lot of nerves for everybody. And the quality of this match he played was very impressive.”
All is not lost for Team World, who can quickly make up the deficit on Saturday given match wins are worth two points on Day 2.