Frances Tiafoe led Team World to their first Laver Cup title as the American saved four match points in a dramatic victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas that denied Roger Federer a farewell trophy on Sunday.
Tiafoe staged a superb fightback to win 1-6,7-6 (13/11), 10/8 in the penultimate match of the tournament at London’s O2 Arena.
That was enough to give John McEnroe’s Team World a 13-8 overall margin of victory with a match to spare, sealing their maiden triumph in the competition after Team Europe won the first four editions.
While Federer had hoped to mark the end of his career by lifting the trophy in a tournament he helped create, the Swiss legend was left to salute Tiafoe and the rest of the Team World squad.
“Congratulations to Team World, amazing comeback,” Federer said.
“It’s been emotional at times but I had a great time. I can’t thank you enough for that. I enjoyed every minute.”
Promising to attend next year’s Laver Cup in Canada, Federer said: “I’m looking forward to next year. I’ll be there too, supporting both teams from a different position.”
Federer had played the last match of his glittering career on Friday when he and Rafael Nadal were beaten by Tiafoe and Jack Sock in the doubles.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion’s tearful farewell was the tournament’s headline moment, but Federer – unable to play further matches due to the knee problems that forced his retirement — stayed around to cheer on his Team Europe colleagues.
Despite the presence of Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic and former world number one Andy Murray on the Team Europe roster, it fitted that Tiafoe and Canadian rising star Felix Auger-Aliassime powered Team World’s comeback from a 8-4 overnight deficit.
Tiafoe, 24, and Auger-Aliassime, 22, are part of a generation expected to stage center-stage now Federer has retired, with Nadal and Murray also in the twilight of their careers.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling. Our captain Jonny Mac was tired of losing, he was dropping F-bombs all week. I kept saying that this is our year. It wasn’t just me, we all showed up,” Tiafoe said.
“It looks like I have that clutch game right now. I’m happy I get to hold the Laver Cup trophy, that’s all that mattered.”
Needing to win three of Sunday’s four matches, Team World were dragged back into contention by Auger-Aliassime.
– Federer farewell –
Auger-Aliassime handed Djokovic his first defeat since May as the Canadian powered to a 6-3, 7-6 (7/3) victory.
Djokovic, who missed the recent US Open due to his unvaccinated status, had won his first match for two months on Saturday when the 21-time Grand Slam champion defeated Tiafoe in straight sets.
“It’s one of the best performances of my career. I’ve been close a few times against these great champions, so it feels too great to get a win like this,” Auger-Aliassime said.
Auger-Aliassime’s first-ever win over Djokovic was especially impressive as he had already partnered Sock to a 2-6, 6-3, 10/8 doubles victory over Matteo Berrettini and Murray earlier on Sunday.
Auger-Aliassime’s heroics set the stage for Tiafoe who didn’t disappoint.
Tsitsipas blazed through the first set in just 21 minutes, but the Greek’s fast start was halted by the defiant Tiafoe.
Tsitsipas squandered four match points in the second set tie-break as Tiafoe showed why he reached this year’s US Open semi-finals, staving off defeat in nerveless fashion.
On his third set point, Tiafoe delivered a perfectly placed volley to trigger a first to 10 points ‘Laver Breaker’.
Tiafoe tipped the match in his favour with an astonishing cross-court winner after sprinting to the net to reach the disbelieving Tsitsipas’s drop-shot.
It was a moment of magic that recalled Federer at his finest and the Swiss great couldn’t resist a wry grin as he soaked up his last taste of big-time tennis before riding into the sunset.