Novak Djokovic made up for lost time with two victories in rapid fashion to help Team Europe take control of the Laver Cup on the second day of the team competition in London.
A day after Roger Federer’s emotional farewell to competitive tennis alongside Rafael Nadal in the early hours of Saturday morning at the O2, Djokovic took centre stage with a routine win over Team World’s Frances Tiafoe before he partnered up with Matteo Berrettini to beat Jack Sock and Alex de Minaur in the doubles.
It put Team Europe 8-4 up going into the final day and with points on Sunday worth three, the hosts will wrap up a fifth consecutive title with two more triumphs in the race to hit the 13-point mark.
Djokovic had been restricted to a watching brief on Friday when two of his biggest rivals – but team-mates for this event – joined forces in a memorable doubles contest that brought down the curtain on Federer’s illustrious career.
If the Serbian was itching for a piece of the action, it was not evident during his cheerleader role in the ‘last dance’ of his old adversary but when he stepped onto the court on Saturday night, it represented his first contest since a seventh Wimbledon victory was clinched in July.
Up against US Open semi-finalist Tiafoe, Djokovic had sealed an almost flawless first set inside half an hour.
It was a sign of things to come from the 21-time grand slam champion, who wrapped up a 6-1 6-3 success in 73 minutes and looked in tip-top shape.
Djokovic said on court: “I haven’t played for a few months, the last match was the final at Wimbledon in this city down the road, so I am really glad to continue the run. A pretty decent match from my side.
“Winning for the team after a long and emotional day yesterday, it was not easy to restart the engine so I am just pleased with the performance and to bring two points for the team.”
No sooner had Djokovic left the stylish charcoal court was he back on for a doubles tie with Berrettini to bring the second day to a close.
The Team Europe duo started like a train and while Sock and de Minaur briefly halted the charge, a 7-5 6-2 triumph was wrapped up in one hour and 22 minutes.
It meant Berrettini also celebrated two victories on Saturday after he had been subbed in for Federer, who remained at the Ryder Cup-style event that was his brainchild in a supporting capacity.
The Italian produced his best tennis during a tie-breaker to down Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (11) 4-6 10-7 in another lengthy Laver Cup battle between the duo.
A booming forehand winner, 132mph ace and sumptuous drop shot helped the ice-cool Berrettini make it four wins in five attempts over the young Canadian to impress in front of his idol.
He added: “Having the chances to live what we lived yesterday is something that’s going to be stuck in my heart and my brain forever.
“I’m not lying when I say that I’m here because of (Federer). He was really the one that I was looking up to. He was the one that I was supporting, cheering for him.
“I’m really happy obviously for the win, but I feel like this weekend we’re kind of celebrating something bigger than Laver Cup, than tennis. It’s just him.”
British number one Cameron Norrie did not fare as well when he stepped into the shoes of Nadal, who pulled out of the event after his iconic role in Federer’s farewell.
Norrie fought back well from a poor start against Taylor Fritz but the American triumphed 6-1 4-6 10-8 in what proved Team World’s only points of the day.
Wimbledon semi-finalist Norrie still enjoyed the opportunity to put into practice coaching advice from team-mate Federer.
“At one point Roger was like ‘yeah, it’s a good play to serve-volley’ so I actually serve-volleyed. I had the play, I just didn’t quite execute the volley,” Norrie explained.
“I looked over at him and he was laughing and smiling. He was happy that I actually did it. I mean, if Roger Federer is telling you to do something, there is no chance I’m not going to do it.”