Laver Cup gets underway as Shelton wins battle of the rookies against Fils

Ben Shelton has got Team World off to a winning start at the 2023 Laver Cup, defeating fellow debutant Arthur Fils in the opening match of the day

Ben Shelton, Laver Cup 2023 Ben Shelton, Laver Cup 2023 – © DARRYL DYCK/AP/SIPA

The 2023 Laver Cup has begun with a bang in Vancouver, as Ben Shelton defeated Arthur Fils in straight sets 7-6 (4), 6-1 to get Team World off to a winning start.

Team World vs Team Europe : 1-0

In a match that featured two youngsters making their Laver Cup debuts, there were some understandable nerves in the opening set. However, it was Shelton who settled his more effectively, claiming the opening tiebreaker before running away with the match to win in less than one hour, 20 minutes.

“I wanted to be able to set the tone with my energy for Team World today. I think it went pretty well, I’m excited to get on the bench and cheer these guys on for the rest of the day,” said the American after his victory.

First set dictated by big serves, and Fils’ forehand

It was a first set that remained on serve for 12 games, with both of these young players known for their booming serves.

The servers were dialled in, with neither getting a look at the others serve until Shelton served to stay in the first set at 4-5, just 27 minutes into the match. After an errant start, Fils finally found his forehand, blasting three brilliant strikes to force deuce for the first time in 10 games, drawing within two points of claiming the opening exchange.

Just as quickly as Fils’ forehand generated chances, Shelton’s serve removed them, with a canny ace up the line followed by a booming 236 km/h unreturnable that received a standing ovation from his Team World colleagues on the sideline.

Fittingly, the set headed to a tiebreak, and it was Fils who grabbed the early advantage, racing out to a 4-1 lead. The Frenchman had the better of Shelton whenever rallies eventuated, intelligently moving him side-to-side to extract errors.

Just when it seemed as though the 19-year-old would be going up one set to love, the Fils forehand capitulated. Three straight errors—one of them painfully on top of the net—saw his advantage melt away, with Shelton gaining momentum point-by-point to win the tiebreak 7-4.

Shouts of “Come on, Johnny!” could be heard between sets, as the American displayed a surprising familiarity with legend and team captain John McEnroe.

Shelton rides momentum to straight sets victory

While the opening set saw opportunities to break serve come few and far between, they were more readily available in the second.

Shelton had his first sniff in the second game, with Fils fighting out a tough rally to repel the American and hold for 1-1. The Frenchman had his own chance at 15-30 on Shelton’s serve, before some big hitting from the 20-year-old saw him clear of the threat.

In the fourth game of the set, however, Fils was unable to wriggle his way out of his opponent’s relentless pressure. Shelton gained another two break points at 15-40, and while he couldn’t capitalise on these thanks to some smart serving by Fils, he was able to force a third break point of the game by extracting a backhand error at deuce. A big forehand up the line by Shelton saw the American go up a set and a break.

Shelton would continue to remain solid behind his own serve, while pressuring Fils on his serve. Another break came in the sixth game, before Shelton sealed it with a clutch service game at 5-1.

“Really happy to see a red stadium right now,” declared a pumped up Shelton after the match. “The crowd really got me going. Thanks for the world support.”

Next up, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, another Laver Cup debutant, will take on Team World’s Francisco Cerundolo in an attempt to gain Team Europe’s first points of the tournament.

At Laver Cup all of Friday’s matches are worth one point, Saturday’s matches are worth two points, while all of Sunday’s matches will be worth three.

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