Auger-Aliassime falls to Federer fill-in Matteo Berrettini at Laver Cup
Djokovic cruises past Tiafoe; Nadal pulls out of tournament for personal reasons
Filling in for the retired Roger Federer at the Laver Cup, 2021 Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini edged Team World's Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 7-6 (11), 4-6, 10-7 in a hard-hitting duel on Saturday.
Federer stuck around, though, and helped Berrettini by offering coaching advice during Saturday's opening singles match.
"Having the chance 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 him. Like, he was really the one that I was looking up to," said Berrettini, a 26-year-old from Italy.
"If, a few years ago," Berrettini said, "someone told me, `Look, you're going to play Laver Cup, and Roger's going to coach you,' I would have been, like, `Yeah, right."'
WATCH l Auger-Aliassime edged by Berrettini in tie break:
Berrettini originally was listed as an alternate on Team Europe, and it was clear he would step in for Federer, who said he ran his plan to bow out after doubles past the ATP and the team captains, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.
Later on Saturday, Novak Djokovic produced a stunning performance to thrash Tiafoe in his first match since winning Wimbledon in July to edge Team Europe ahead 6-4.
With Federer watching on from courtside at a sold out O2 Arena, Djokovic returned to action in spellbinding fashion.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/rogerfederer?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rogerfederer</a>: Always looking out for teammates.<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LaverCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LaverCup</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/DjokerNole?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DjokerNole</a> <a href="https://t.co/qaZ8FaYsZK">pic.twitter.com/qaZ8FaYsZK</a>—@LaverCup
U.S. Open semifinalist Tiafoe was helpless to stop the Djokovic onslaught as the Serb won 6-1, 6-3.
Djokovic and Berrettini paired up to close the evening with a 7-5, 6-2 doubles victory over Sock and Alex de Minaur to give Team Europe an 8-4 lead heading into Sunday.
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 withdrew earlier in the day for personal reasons.
Fritz won 6-1 4-6 10-8 as 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 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.
Idemoooo! Vamossssss! <a href="https://t.co/1v6mo6idCW">https://t.co/1v6mo6idCW</a>—@RafaelNadal
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 I've witnessed in my life," Djokovic said.
Individual matches were worth one point on Friday, two on Saturday and three on Sunday. Thirteen points are needed to claim the trophy.
"One of the most beautiful moments I've ever experienced in my life for sure."<a href="https://twitter.com/DjokerNole?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DjokerNole</a> shares his account of <a href="https://twitter.com/rogerfederer?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@rogerfederer</a>'s final match at the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LaverCup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LaverCup</a>. <a href="https://t.co/O5pRq8Xi6o">pic.twitter.com/O5pRq8Xi6o</a>—@LaverCup
Nadal withdrew from the tournament on Saturday, citing personal reasons.
"I'm not good, I'm not good," he told Spanish reporters early Saturday morning at London's O2 Arena, per ESPN. "The truth is these have been difficult weeks in that sense. Few, very few hours of sleep, a bit of stress in general, slightly more difficult situations than usual at home.
"As a result, well, I've had to deal with all that, which is a different pressure to the one you're used to in your professional life. But, well, luckily everything is good and we are much more calm. And in that sense, I've been able to come here, which for me was the most important thing."
The Spaniard, who has won a men's record 22 Grand Slam titles, later said that an important part of him was also leaving the Tour with the retirement of Federer.
Nadal is also expecting his first child with wife Mery Perello soon but made the trip to London to play alongside Federer in the Swiss maestro's final professional outing.
WATCH l Federer seals legendary career:
With files from The Associated Press and Field Level Media