Djokovic, Berrettini champion class puts Team Europe 8-4 ahead | news

A brilliant evening for Novak Djokovic has brought Team Europe to within two wins of the Laver Cup, which heads into the final day of the three-day competition.

Djokovic put on one of his most impressive performances of the year as he defeated Frances Tiafoe 6-1, 6-3 in singles and returned to the pitch after just 20 minutes to guide Matteo Berrettini to victory over Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock accompany 7-5 6-2 in a game that could prove crucial to the weekend’s outcome.

With the four Gummis each counting for three points on Sunday, Europe’s 8-4 lead isn’t impregnable, but it means Team World will need to win three of their four remaining games to prevent the Europeans from clinching the Laver Cup for the fifth time in win episode.

He may not have been on the tour for the past 11 weeks, but Djokovic picked up where he left off in the Wimbledon final, delivering a master class in beating Tiafoe in just 72 minutes. He looked extremely sharp from the first point and served superbly – dropping just seven points in eight service games, all in set number two. It looked like he had never been away.

It was as if the Serb wanted to make an emphatic statement about the tennis tour. He started the year at the top of the rankings but has missed two of the four Grand Slam tournaments this year despite being fully fit and a front-line favourite. His decision not to take a Covid-19 vaccine came at a personal cost, but now, having been denied entry to America for the US Open, there was an undercurrent message of ‘don’t count me’ about him impressive display.

From the first two points it was clear that Djokovic was hitting the ball beautifully, moving gracefully from side to side and from the back of the court to the net. It took a stunning backhand pass from Tiafoe in game two to earn his first point, which itself was a warning of how difficult it would be to oust Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic displays his impressive athleticism in a flawless show on Saturday night.

Tiafoe held his first serve but lost his next three as Djokovic won the opener in 23 minutes after winning all 16 points on his own serve. He continued the streak to 18 before Tiafoe finally won one. The American had his only break point of the game in that game but he was already behind and when Djokovic saved the threat to hold at 3-1, Tiafoe was visibly demoralized.

To even stand a chance, Tiafoe had to serve well, and too many first serves were for big points. But the way Djokovic played it’s hard to see how Tiafoe could have done anything to change the fate of the game and Djokovic sealed the win by breaking Tiafoe for the fourth time in eight service games. The only thing that went wrong for Djokovic was an attempted “tweener” trick shot, which failed so badly that he waved at himself in disgust.

“I’m really happy to continue the run,” Djokovic told the crowd, referring to his last match at Wimbledon. “I played a pretty decent game, I saw the ball well. It was a very emotional day yesterday and it wasn’t easy to start the engine today, but I’m very happy with the way I played.”

Djokovic continued his great form in doubles. He and Berrettini had never worked together before, but they played a front-and-back strategy that saw a lot of lateral movement both at net and at the back of the court and they looked like an accomplished couple. Djokovic was the architect of the win, but Berrettini was rock solid with his defensive volleys, adding extra momentum on serve.

Speaking Italian among themselves as Djokovic is fluent in his third language, the European couple could have won more easily than them. They had a set point 5-2 in the first game but eventually won it with a stunning backhand half-volley from Djokovic that showed his confidence and growing enjoyment of the game. With Sock playing well below his usual level, the American-Australian pairing was broken twice in the second set as Sock suffered just his third loss in 11 Laver Cup doubles in 81 minutes. “Everyone is talking about Novak being gone,” said Sock ruefully, “but there was no rust.”

Djokovic got the mood right as he commented on Roger Federer’s emotional farewell to the crowd in the early hours of Saturday morning. “It was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced,” he said, “and it was a privilege to be a part of it. The moment I got really emotional was watching his kids burst into tears because I know what sacrifices the people closest to us are making for us to play this game.”

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