Chris Bowers assesses the field for the fifth edition of the Laver Cup in London.
The last high-profile match Caspar Ruud played was for the US Open title and world No. 1 ranking at a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. His next match opens the 2022 Laver Cup in a crowded O2 Arena in London.
The new world No. 2, one of this year’s breakthrough players, kicks off the fifth edition of the global team competition at 1pm London time against heavy-hitting American Jack Sock before Diego Schwartzman looks to counter the power of Stefanos Tsitsipas and the former No. 1 of the World, Andy Murray meets the fast Alex de Minaur. Sock then teams up with Frances Tiafoe, another breakthrough star from the last US Open, in the highly-anticipated doubles match against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Ruud, who won a Davis Cup match against India in Norway last week, is a clear favorite against 29-year-old Sock, whose ranking has slipped to 128; In fact, Sock won the last singles match in the first week of August when he defeated David Goffin in Washington. But Sock and Ruud have never played and the American has proven in the past that form on the tour is no guarantee of form in team competitions.
Sock often saved his best for the Laver Cup. His last singles was a 6-1, 7-6 win over Fabio Fognini in 2019, and at the opening event of the competition in Prague in 2017 he pushed Nadal to the limit, losing in an 11-9 tiebreak. He’s also won seven of his nine Laver Cup double gummies, and with his strong topspin on his forehand – sometimes heavier than Nadal’s, measured in rpm – the 126-place gap in the leaderboard might look silly if Sock gets ins opening game.
The second of Friday’s four games is the closest in terms of ranking positions when world No. 6 Tsitsipas takes on 17thth– Rank Schwartzman. The pair will play for the fourth time this year and sixth overall, with Greece leading 3-2. Two of that year’s games went the full distance, and Schwartzman won his only game on indoor hard court in 2017 in Antwerp.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited competition for home fans will see two-time Wimbledon champion Murray return to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs. His second Wimbledon title came in 2016 which allowed him to arrive at London’s O2 Arena, then home of the ATP Finals ending the year with a chance to end the year as world no. This tournament ended with Murray defeating Novak Djokovic in the finals in a straight eliminator for the year-end top spot.
It was his last match at The O2, however, as his hip failed severely the following year, culminating in surgery in 2019 to implant a metal pin. The fact that he’s playing at all is remarkable, and his recent entry into the third round of the US Open has cemented his spot in the world top 50 (he’s currently 43).
However, Murray will need all the support at home he can get. He concedes 21 ranking spots ahead of his Laver Cup Night Session match against Alex de Minaur, the Aussie won his only previous meeting – albeit in pre-pandemic times in Zhuhai three years ago – and de Minaur was in fine form on the American hard courts , won the title in Atlanta and matched Murray’s third round at the US Open.
With Team Europe boasting four of the greatest players in tennis history – three of whom will play on opening day – Team World can look forward to just one win. Still, John McEnroe’s side have a realistic chance in all four games on Friday.
While it would be a surprise if Sock beat Ruud, it wouldn’t be a total surprise. Tsitsipas-Schwartzman is clearly 50-50 and Team World has the edge when it comes to the game between Murray and de Minaur. The joker of the pack is doubles, where Federer and Nadal are class and sentimental favorites, but Sock is a high-profile doubles player with 17 titles including three men’s doubles majors, so he and the in-form Tiafoe could prove to be too many European legends.
As the cliché goes, there really is everything to play with.