Tennis-Newcomers fire as Team World make strong start to Laver Cup defence

Tennis - Laver Cup - Palexpo, Geneva, Switzerland - September 20, 2019 General view of the Laver Cup trophy before the start of play REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

(Reuters) -Defending champions Team World took a 4-0 lead over Team Europe on the opening day of the Laver Cup in Vancouver on Friday, as Ben Shelton, Francisco Cerundolo and Felix Auger-Aliassime all won their singles matches.

The three-day tournament, viewed as tennis' answer to golf's Ryder Cup, offering fans a rare opportunity to see the sport's top players team up, is without the likes of the retired Roger Federer, the injured Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic this year.

But fans got a glimpse of the future at the Rogers Arena, as U.S. Open semi-finalist Shelton beat fellow debutant Arthur Fils of France 7-6(4) 6-1 to hand Team World the opening point of the competition for the first time in its six-year history.

"It's different pressure, for sure," said American Shelton, who hit back from 1-4 in the first set tiebreak before switching gears to close out the victory, as tournament co-founder and 20-times Grand Slam champion Federer watched from the stands.

"I love the type of pressure of playing for a team. In the back of your head, it's always you don't want to let them down, but also, the win is so much greater when you get to do it for them and Team World, not just for yourself."

Argentine Cerundolo claimed his first point for Team World with a 6-3 7-5 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

"We've got some new blood. There's a lot of energy," Team World captain John McEnroe said.

"I think we've always had the team spirit, but there's a great team feeling. Obviously we've come in guns blazing. It's great to have a lead."

Home favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime made it a hat-trick of singles wins for Team World with a 6-4 6-3 victory over French veteran Gael Monfils in the evening session.

Americans Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul then completed the clean sweep by defeating Team Europe's Fils and Andrey Rublev 6-3 4-6 (10-6) in the doubles match.

The first team to reach 13 points will lift the Laver Cup.

While Team World claimed one point for each win on Friday, Team Europe will not lose hope as two points will be on offer for each victory on Saturday and three points for each win on the final day.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by William Mallard, Peter Rutherford)

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