London: Novak Djokovic produced a stunning performance to thrash Frances Tiafoe in his first match since winning Wimbledon in July then teamed up with Matteo Berrettini to put Team Europe in command in the Laver Cup on Saturday.
With Roger Federer watching on from courtside at a sold out O2 Arena, the day after his emotional farewell match alongside Rafa Nadal, Djokovic returned to action in spellbinding fashion.
U.S. Open semi-finalist Tiafoe was helpless to stop the Djokovic onslaught as the Serb won 6-1 6-3 to put Bjorn Borg’s Team Europe into a 6-4 lead overall.
He then joined Berrettini, the man he beat in the 2020 Wimbledon final, to beat Team World duo Jack Sock and Alex De Minaur 7-5 6-2 to give Team Europe an 8-4 lead heading into Sunday’s final four matches.
Individual matches were worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday. Thirteen points are required to win the trophy.
After Federer’s memorably tear-jerking final match the previous night, day two could have been an anti-climax but the quality of the tennis, and the presence of the Swiss great on the bench, ensured a superb spectacle.
Berrettini, who replaced 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer for the singles, won a hard-hitting duel against Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(11) 4-6 10-7.
But American Taylor Fritz drew Team World level at 4-4 in the day’s second match with a tight win against Briton Cameron Norrie -- a stand-in for Nadal who left earlier in the day for personal reasons.
Fritz won 6-1 4-6 10-8 as John McEnroe’s Team World showed that they are made of sterner stuff this year having been trounced 14-1 last year in Boston.
Federer, watching every ball along with the rest of his Team Europe colleagues including Andy Murray, did his best to lift Norrie with some words of wisdom.
At one point Federer suggested the world number eight should serve and volley, which Norrie promptly did but lost the point as Fritz sent a lob over his head.
“If Roger Federer is telling you to do something, there is no chance I’m not going to do it, especially out there playing for Team Europe,” Norrie said later.
Djokovic’s decision to not have a COVID-19 vaccine meant he was not allowed to play in the U.S. swing and Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz took full advantage to win the U.S. Open and take over as the new world number one.
But Djokovic issued a statement of intent as he picked up where he left off when beating Nick Kyrgios on Wimbledon’s Centre Court to reach 21 Grand Slam titles.
Not even Federer could have improved on a first set in which Djokovic did not drop a point on serve and landed his precision groundstrokes near the lines with relentless regularity.
Tiafoe went a break down early in the second set but gained some traction to push back hard and had a break point that Djokovic repelled in masterful fashion.
Djokovic then wrapped it up in little more than an hour.
“I haven’t played for a few months so happy to continue the run, it was a pretty decent match from my side, I have to say,” Djokovic said on court.
Djokovic then paid tribute to Federer’s emotional finale the previous night. “It was one of the most beautiful moments we have experienced live or on the tennis courts. We were all taken away by it,” Djokovic said.