Shelton, Cerundolo Win For Team World In Laver Cup Debuts
Ben Shelton heard the doubters when he was selected by John McEnroe to make his Laver Cup debut for Team World. The American was happy to prove those naysayers wrong with his breakout semi-final run at the US Open, and he continued to repay McEnroe’s faith on Friday with a straight-sets win against Team Europe’s Arthur Fils.
In his first match since a defeat to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the New York semis, Shelton was a 7-6(4), 6-1 winner against France’s Fils. Following that match, Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-5 to earn defending champion Team World an early 2-0 lead in the first-to-13 event.
Shelton revelled in the team environment, constantly interacting with the Vancouver crowd and the Team World bench throughout his opening victory.
“Come on, Johnny!” the American shouted to McEnroe after winning six straight points to win the opening tie-break from 1/4. “Yeah baby!” was the captain’s reply.
“It’s been amazing,” Shelton said of working with his fellow American lefty. “Just a few key pieces of advice I’ve picked up on over the last few days. It’s been great to be around him, and his energy is unmatched. Having him as a captain at a team event is amazing. He definitely matches my energy out here on the court, and I’m happy to be playing for him and Team World.”
A tight opening set did not see a break point for either player, with just one point going against serve in the first six games. Both players found early success by backing up big serves with heavy forehands on the indoor hard court.
It was Shelton’s success in the rallies that won him the opening set, with Fils’ errors costing him his lead in the tie-break. With the comfort of the lead, Shelton ran away with set two, creating break points in all three return games and converting twice.
“I think the crowd really got me going, having it in Canada. I know it’s not the U.S., but thanks for the World support,” he said. “I really wanted to be able to set the tone with my energy for Team World today. I think it went pretty well, so I’m excited to get on the bench and cheer for these guys the rest of the day.”
Cerundolo completed a day-session sweep for his team with a roller-coaster win against Spain’s Davidovich Fokina. Like Shelton, Cerundolo’s game plan was also built around his big forehand. While the Argentine was less dominant on serve — he won 54 per cent of his first-serve points to Shelton’s 84 per cent — he constantly kept his opponent under pressure with power and consistency off the ground.
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A battling performance from Davidovich Fokina kept the scoreline close, with the Spaniard denying his opponent’s attempts to serve out the opening set at 5-1 and the second at 5-4. In both cases, Cerundolo responded brilliantly. With Team Europe sensing a comeback late in the match, the Argentine used drop shots on consecutive points to break from deuce at 5-5, then served out the victory from 15/30 at the second time of asking.
The Argentine said he felt McEnroe’s influence from the sideline, winning 12 points in the frontcourt.
“To be honest, I went to the net a lot of times. I never go,” he said. “Probably because I saw John there and I tried to copy him a little bit and I made some good points. I hope he’s happy with my volleys, at least a little bit,” he joked.
Team World has never held a lead after Day 1 at Laver Cup. With one evening win, they will finish Friday with an advantage on the scoreboard.
Friday’s evening session in Vancouver will see home favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime take on Team Europe’s Gael Monfils before Americans Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe play Fils and Andrey Rublev in doubles.
“We’ve got some new blood. There’s a lot of energy,” McEnroe said after Cerundolo’s victory. “I think we’ve always had the team spirit, but there’s a great team feeling. And obviously we’ve come in guns blazing. It’s great to have a lead.
“For Francisco to win, it means a lot because we have a predominantly American team. But he did his thing.”
The first team to reach 13 points will win the Laver Cup. One point is awarded for each victory on Friday, two points for each win on Saturday, and three for each win on Sunday.