“Djokerer” will premiere Friday at Laver Cup

When the most highly anticipated moment of a three-day tennis event is two top players teaming up in doubles, you know you’re not on the ATP Tour.

And Team Europe won’t make the fans wait too long.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will team up for doubles Friday, the second match of the night session on Day 1 of the Laver Cup.

There was a similar moment a year ago, at the event’s inaugural edition in Prague. The pairing of Federer and Rafael Nadal was probably even more anticipated, as inextricably intertwined as they have been during a decade-long rivalry.

It was a little awkward, as most first-time pairings are – especially involving two players with radically different playing styles.

How will Federer and Djokovic work together – Federer playing forehand, Djokovic on the ad side? 

Doesn’t really matter. It’s the novelty of the thing.

The two have done a good job joshing and kibbitzing and pretending they’re good buddies in the leadup to the event. Although you have to ask the question: have they practiced together this week?

Three singles, then Djokerer

The opening day session Friday will be two singles matches. The first will have Team Europe’s Grigor Dimitrov go up against Team World’s Frances Tiafoe.

That will be followed by Kyle Edmund vs. Jack Sock.

The night session singles match will pit David Goffin against Diego Schwartzman.

It’s not exactly a star-studded lineup, with Dimitrov (at No. 7) the only top-10 player. But on the plus side, there will be an American in each match during the day session.

“He’s player with a lot of potential, a player who in a few years can win a Grand Slam,” Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg said of the 27-year-old Dimitrov.

When you see that night singles match, and take into consideration how much they’re charging for the tickets, they almost had no choice but to bring out the two rock stars for the doubles.

“I did have an inkling they would play – I am surprised they would play the first day,” Team World captain John McEnroe said.

Djokerer will take on Sock and Kevin Anderson.

Ahhhh, memories. Will we Djokerer re-enact this moment?

So it seems Sock, who didn’t play Davis Cup last weekend because of a hip issue, has recovered well enough to play singles during the afternoon and doubles late night.

Of course, having a match tiebreak in lieu of a third set, compared to the best-of-five format on red clay the Americans were facing last week in Croatia, makes it a lot easier.

Stakes get higher through the weekend

The way the exhibition format works is that the matches on the first day are worth one point each. On Saturday, they’re worth two points each and as they get down to serious business during the single session on Sunday, a win will be worth three points.

Djokerer
Team Europe is breaking out its “dream team” on Day 1 of the Laver Cup. If it goes to a sudden-death doubles set on Sunday, they could play again (Pic: Laver Cup website)

Friday night could be the only appearance by Djokerer during the weekend – unless the teams are tied 12-12 in points on Sunday. In that case, one set of doubles would be played to declare the victor, and they could jump back in.

The lineups for the two sessions Saturday will be announced an hour after play finishes on Friday.

If you’re in the Chicago area and are of a mind to catch Djokerer, there have been a few extra seats released.

As of 5:30 p.m EDT, there are seven of the “cheapest” left in the upper deck, at $132 plus all the charges. Another 203 remain in the lower bowl, at either $420+ or … $600.

(The 46 tickets remaining for the finale on Sunday range from $720 to $840, with one ducat tidily priced at  … $1,080).

Struggling in singles, Sock doubles … up

NEW YORK – Assuming he’s healthy, which it appears he is, American Jack Sock is having a crisis of confidence in singles.

He’s still in the top 20 – for now. And in fact, he’ll move up one spot to No. 17 on Monday after meekly going out in the second round of the US Open singles.

But he is salvaging his season in a major way, as the best possible substitute Mike Bryan could have asked for after his twin Bob underwent hip surgery.

Sock and Bryan are the US Open men’s doubles champions, after defeating No. 7 seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 6-3, 6-1 in the final Friday.

“I think this was the best match we have played together, and we picked a good time to do it. You know, Jack hit some monstrous forehands. I think our average speed on shots was 84 (mph), and I’m hitting the ball in the 60s. Who’s the guy that’s bringing that up? It’s Jack. He had one at 111,” Bryan said.

They add that trophy to the one they won just two months ago, at Wimbledon. It’s the first time in 15 years that the same pair has won both.

“I tend to smile a lot more in doubles than singles and tend to put a lot less pressure on myself, for sure. And I think, as my coach is making fun of me back here, if I could translate that maybe over to singles and maybe have somewhat of that same mentality of playing loose and just enjoying, you know, every moment of it, then hopefully I can accomplish some of these things in singles,” Sock said.

“But I know the level I can play. I showed a lot of it last year. I think it’s just going to keep taking the team effort with the guys I have around me, and they are keeping me positive, keeping me motivated; I’m doing a lot of the right things. As long as I keep doing that, as I keep saying, it’s very close. And I was happy to at least get a win here and not keep the losing streak going, so I’ll take that, as well, confidence going forward and get ready for the fall.”

Oldest ever, but forever young

At 40, Mike Bryan is the oldest man to win a Grand Slam doubles title. That’s a record he could conceivably keep breaking as he expects Bob back for 2019. He also is the oldest-ever No. 1-ranked doubles player. Ditto.

For Sock, it’s a new career high in doubles at No. 2. His previous high was No. 6, back in May 2015 when he was still playing regularly with Canadian Vasek Pospisil (the two won Wimbledon together in 2014).

He began the season at No. 39, playing doubles somewhat regularly but always having it take a back seat to his singles career.

After just five tournaments together, they will rocket to No. 4 in the team rankings and will make the year-end Tour Finals in London. They are the defacto No. 3 team, as the actual No. 3s are the Bryan twins.

It is the sixth US Open doubles title for Mike, with the first five (obviously) coming with brother Bob. And it is his 120th career title.

It also puts him at the top of the list, in terms of Grand Slam doubles titles in the open era. He began 2018 tied with his brother at 16, one behind John Newcombe. Now, he stands alone.

“I think it comes down to playing the big matches well. Jack is a big match player. He always plays his best. He’s done it through his junior career. I don’t think you have lost a Grand Slam final. So he steps up when it really matters. When we lost in Cincinnati, he was, like, ‘We’re Grand Slam players’. I’m, like, ‘All right. Let’s see what we got.’

“He showed it today. He just played amazing. You know, it wasn’t easy early. At Wimbledon we struggled, had some long matches, down match points. I was still adjusting to the deuce court and to his style of play. He plays a different brand that I have never seen on my side before. So now it feels comfortable,” he added. “It’s just a blast. I mean, from the locker room, from practices, to winning these trophies, it’s just been a great ride.”

Best in the world? Nestor thinks so

The legendary Daniel Nestor said recently that Jack Sock was the best doubles player in the world. Why, Nestor was asked? Because he can win with anyone.

Mike Bryan, of course, is not anyone. But Sock played the ad side while Mike, who almost always plays the ad side with lefty Bob playing the deuce side (except, back in the day, when they wanted to change things up during a period they had a ton of trouble beating Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic), moved over.

Sock now has 13 titles. Four came with Pospisil, two with John Isner and now two with Bryan. He also has earned trophies with Nick Kyrgios, Nicholas Monroe, James Blake, Marcel Granollers and … Jackson Withrow.

“I was talking to my team and coach, especially, and I was not planning on playing doubles at Wimbledon. But after, you know, the unfortunate injury with Bob, obviously I talked to him a little bit and I said, If there’s a chance Mike contacts me, what would you say about that? I think that’s a special circumstance and occasion,” Sock said. “My coach said, ‘He’s the one guy I’d let you play with if he calls you or texts you.’ Soon after, I got the call or the text, you know, and a very quick yes from me.”

Hip surgery for Bob Bryan ends his season

After nearly three months away with a hip injury, Bob Bryan tried to play a competitive match with the World Team Tennis Washington Kastles last week.

After two games, they substituted for him.

So it wasn’t a total shock that Bob, the lefty half of the Hall-of-Fame bound Bryan brothers, was headed for the operating table.

“He’s going to have surgery unfortunately. He’s having it this week up in New York [with a doctor] who’s one of the best in the world for the hip. It looks like it might be a six-month recovery. He’s hoping to come back a little after the Aussie Open next year,” Mike Bryan told Jane Voigt of Down the Tee. “It looks like it will get back to one-hundred percent; so that’s good news.”

A  tennis.life source said the surgery was performed Thursday morning. (Indeed, the Washington Post confirms this).

surgery

The Bryans, who are now 40, retired in that final in Madrid, because of Bob’s hip. But the effort in that Masters 1000 tournament moved them up to a tie for No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings.

After losing the No. 1 ranking in Oct. 2017 – they had a stranglehold on the top spot for more than five years – the Bryans had dropped as low as No. 15 in February.

BryanTheir last major title was the 2014 US Open, and they had reached just two Grand Slam finals over the ensuing three years. In 2017, the brothers won just two relatively minor titles: Atlanta and Eastbourne.

You know, at their age and given what they’d accomplished, that thoughts began to creep in about whether it was the beginning of the end. But they rested and retooled and already in 2018, they had won Masters 1000 titles at Miami and Monte Carlo, and reached the final at two more, Indian Wells and Madrid.

The tennis was coming together, and there were goals to shoot for.

And then, the bad news.

Mike Bryan is hip, too

Mike Bryan knows all about this. It’s buried deep in their illustrious history now, but he had his own major hip issues all the way back in 2004.

surgery
Bob Bryan is no slouch in mixed, either. He teamed up with Lindsay Davenport in Wimbledon mixed, after she returned to action following the birth of her first child. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

After the Bryans lost in the quarterfinals at the Athens Olympics, he contemplated surgery himself, and according to this Forbes piece, was diagnosed with FAI and labral tears in both hips. He never missed any time, and had cortisone shots for three years and worked with a noted New York-based physiotherapist to manage it. 

But Mike Bryan was just 26 then. Whole different ballgame.

The Bryans aren’t like the rest of the teams out there. Mike is playing with France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin this week, whose regular partner is injured. Jean-Julien Rojer, another top-10 player, is also going from week to week as his longtime partner, Horia Tecau, is also off the tour.

But the Bryans, twins, are like two halves of a whole.

So imagine the emotions when Mike, teamed up with Jack Sock, won Wimbledon this year and, at 40, returned to the No. 1 ranking.

surgery

That had been a “team” goal. And he did it without his other half.

“I would’ve loved for him to have hoisted the trophy with me. We were having a great year up to that point. I definitely thought we could’ve won a slam this year. [But], he was very supportive from home; and, I dedicated the victory to him. He was sharing in the whole process. I’m just looking forward to having him back,” Bryan told Down the Tee.

Sock time on the hard courts

Bryan played with Sam Querrey at the French Open, Jack Sock at Queen’s Club and Wimbledon, Jamie Cerretani at Eastbourne, Frances Tiafoe in Atlanta and Roger-Vasselin this week in D.C.

But he’ll reunite with Sock for the rest of the hard-court season and though the fall. 

surgery

There’s a new goal: making the ATP Tour Finals in November in London.

They are already 9th in the race (eighth, technically, since Bryan and Bryan stand at No. 2) after only two tournaments together

surgeryAnd given both their rankings are in the top 20, and they have a major title, they likely would earn the eighth spot automatically even if they do little else, per the rules.

The side bonus of this partnership is that it could prove to be a boost to Sock’s confidence during a season when his singles is a major struggle.

On his way to the top in singles last year, Sock didn’t play that much doubles.

But he won Wimbledon in 2014 with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. And recently, asked who the best doubles player in the world is, no less an authority than Daniel Nestor named Sock. Why? “Because he can win with anybody,” Nestor said.

Coaching musical chairs as Schaap joins Team ‘Penko

When the tennis world descends upon Wimbledon, there are going to be several new coach-player pairings to look out for.

And on the women’s side, it’s truly a game of musical chairs.

Just weeks after Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit announced she was moving from Glenn Schaap to a three-month trial with Brit Nigel Sears, Schaap already has a new gig.

Tennis.Life has learned that the 50-year-old from the Netherlands, who also has worked with top-five players Dinara Safina, Nadia Petrova and Jelena Dokic during his career, has joined Team Jelena Ostapenko on a trial basis.

And, after Ostapenko ended things with another veteran coach, Aussie David Taylor, Taylor moved on to American Madison Keys.

There had been talk a few weeks ago that this would happen, never officially confirmed. but the Taylor-Keys pairing is reportedly already in London and practicing in preparation for Wimbledon.

After a long run with Samantha Stosur, Taylor worked with Naomi Osaka last year.

Schaap
Taylor and Ostapenko seemed congenial enough a few months ago at Indian Wells, but he was gone by May. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Not a secure gig

Ostapenko won the French Open last year but was shocked in the first round this time around. She has yet to settle on a solid, permanent coaching situation in her young career even if her mother, who is a tennis coach, is always on hand.

Taylor joined Team ‘Penko in Australia. But he didn’t last four months.

A year ago, Anabel Medina Garrigues was on board as the Latvian took Paris, but she didn’t return in 2018.

Coaching carousel continues as Ostapenko, Taylor part

New coach for Sock

Schaap
Sock has been scuffling mightily so far in 2018. Perhaps the addition of Knowles for Wimbledon might settle things down. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Keys and Ostapenko are not the only ones who will have a new voice in their ear at the third Grand Slam of the season.

American Jack Sock, who wrapped up 2017 in such impressive fashion but who has struggled to an incredible degree in 2018, also has a new consultant, is on board.

Mark Knowles, who joined Team Raonic last year at this time, after Raonic parted ways with Richard Krajicek, is on board.

Sock took late entry into Eastbourne this week. And with wild cards already attributed to Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, he’s the top seed in the qualifying.

Sock had long worked with Troy Hahn and, recently, with former USTA head of men’s tennis Jay Berger.

Fish in Sock’s corner in Houston

But Berger has a new gig at a club in Florida, and the 25-year-old American has been scrambling a bit on that end.

Schaap
Keys had two coaches at the beginning of 2018 – and then none – as the amiable Taylor comes on board. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Surprisingly, it’s not an unusual time of the season for coaching changes to happen.

A year ago at this time, there were also a lot of new faces.

Meanwhile, Canadian Genie Bouchard, whose own coaching situation has been rather rambunctious the last few years, should have veteran sage Robert Lansdorp with her as she plays her first-ever Wimbledon qualifying next week.

Lansdorp, 80, has been with Bouchard in Europe through practice at the Mouratoglou Academy, through to her attempt to qualify at the WTA event in Birmingham last weekend.

Federer to Bay Area for charity match in March

MELBOURNE, Australia – Roger Federer’s foray to Seattle to hang with Bill Gates last year was such a success, he’s going to do it again.

The reigning Australian Open champion will head to the SAP Center in San Jose, Calif. for another “Match for Africa” exhibition fundraiser.

The match in Seattle with John Isner last April was a sellout,and raised over $2 million for Federer’s charity.

This time, Federer’s opponent will be Jack Sock.

Bill Gates will be back, too, as he and NBC’s Today Show host Savannah Guthrie will have a hit-and-giggle with the two ATP Tour stars.

“We want to go places where people really enjoy tennis, and where it might sell out. Everybody has a lot of fun,” Federer said in a telephone interview with the San Francisco Chronicle from Melbourne.

Federer has been to the area only once in his life, the Chronicle story says – a one-day visit to Google. He never played the ATP Tour event in San Jose, which moved in 2013, because of his long-term commitment to a competing event in Dubai. 

Guthrie gushes for the Fed

Guthrie is an … unabashed Federer fan. So this would be a major bucket-list item crossed off for her.

The timing works out for Federer, who would then head down the coast and out to the desert, where the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells begins a few days later.

Presale tickets go on sale Thursday, and general sales begin Friday. Range is from $30 to $500.

A day of firsts as Sock takes Paris

Jack Sock was down and very nearly out in his first match at the Paris Masters.

But Great Britain’s Kyle Edmund let the 25-year-old American back in after leading 6-4, 5-1 in their second-round match.

Four days – and four more matches – later, Sock went all the way to the title after a 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 win over qualifier Filip Krajinovic of Serbia Sunday.

With the victory, came several long-awaited milestones.

Sock stood at No. 24 in the race to the ATP Tour Finals at the beginning of the week. With the unlikely title, he squeezed into the eighth and final spot. So the American will play the year-end championships in London for the first time.

“Where to begin? This week is an incredible moment for me, especially the way it stated, being down big in my first match and being able to battle through that one,” Sock said during the trophy ceremony.

It is Sock’s first career Masters 1000 title. Not only that, he will jump into the top 10 in the ATP Tour rankings for the first time. He also will end the 2017 season as the No. 1-ranked American male.

“I’ve had a lot of firsts in Paris,” Sock said. “A lot going on right now, emotionally, and I can’t wait to enjoy it all with my team.”

In the bigger picture, the victory resulted in more milestones. Sock is the first American to qualify for London since Mardy Fish in 2011. He’s the first American Masters 1000 tournament champion since Andy Roddick won Miami in 2010. He’s the first American to jump into the top 10 in the rankings since John Isner on May 5, 2014.

And in the even bigger picture, Sock is the first non-European to win either a Grand Slam title, a Masters 1000 tournament or the ATP Tour Finals since that win by Roddick. That dubious streak ends at 107 consecutive tournaments.

Long road to the top 10

It takes more time than ever these days to morph from a top junior into a top player on the world scene. Well, for most players it does; as always, there are exceptions. But it seems to take the Americans even more time than some. 

Part of it is that, as a group, they take less well to the extensive travel and ever-changing conditions on Tour. Nearly all of them grew up on hard courts. And the extensive swings abroad don’t agree with many of them. They prefer the comforts of home.

Sam Querrey had the best season of his career only this year, at age 29, and likely will be an alternate in London.

It’s perhaps a little more than a coincidence that 2008 US Open junior champion Coco Vandeweghe and Sock, the 2010 US Open junior boys’ champion, both will hit the top 10 for the first time on Monday, at age 25.

Sock
So far, Sock’s run to the 2014 Wimbledon men’s doubles title with Canadian Vasek Pospisil was the biggest moment of his career. There may be more to come. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Sock is already widely considered the most talented doubles player in the world at the moment. And that remains true even if he rarely plays doubles these days. He won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014, at age 21, with Canadian Vasek Pospisil in their first tournament together as a duo.

The American doubles gold standard, the Bryan brothers, feel that way. So does Canadian Daniel Nestor, who has 91 career titles on the doubles court. Nestor told Tennis.Life earlier in the season that he considered Sock the best. “He can win with with anybody,” he said.

What that means, fundamentally, is that Sock is far more than just the guy with the big serve and the howitzer forehand with the Nadal-like spin revolutions. Those two elements are the basics of the modern game. But Sock is capable of doing far more.

It’s just that he’s taken his sweet time to put it together.

Sock

The perception – accurate or not, and maybe coloured by his casual, all-American on-court personality – is that he hasn’t cared enough, or worked hard enough on his fitness.

Game-changing moment for Sock

But there was that moment during the match against Krajinovic Sunday that might, in retrospect, go down as the moment where it all clicked. Maybe it was the moment that Sock himself finally believed he could do big things.

After coming back to even the match at one set all, at 1-1 in the third set, Sock hit back-to-back shots that he may not even have thought himself capable of.

The first was a running backhand passing shot down the line. Sock’s backhand is definitely the weak link in his game. Making that shot, at that moment, was significant.

He followed it up with another passing shot that broke Krajinovic’s spirit. This time, it was a running forehand stab down the line. 

Krajinovic had serve-volleyed on that point, pulling Sock out wide to make a one-handed slice return. He then volleyed on the backhand within safe distance of the deuce-side sideline. It should have been enough; at this stage, it didn’t seem as though Sock would have the legs or the will to track it down.

But he did. And he hit the pass without his usual extreme forehand grip. He hit it with very nearly an old-school continental grip, and he made it.

The reaction was not a scream, or a fist pump. Sock appeared stunned.

Sock

He didn’t lose another game.

There were several other players in Paris who had a shot at that final London spot with a good run. Sam Querrey, Pablo Carreño Busta, Juan Martin del Potro and Sock’s countryman John Isner all balked at a key hurdle somewhere along the way. He did not.

The American will have a week to rest up the body before taking on the best (healthy) players in the game in London.

And now, he is playing with house money. 

There are so many big names missing from the Tour Finals this year. Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, all of whom were there a year ago, are out with injuries. Rafael Nadal’s right knee makes him a question mark.

Who knows how far Sock can go?

In the end, though, the biggest thing is that Sock finally may believe that not only does he belong with the world’s best, he can be even better than he already is. If this week in Paris does anything, it might have given him a thirst for even bigger things.

(Screenshots, except where otherwise noted, from TennisTV).

London update: DelPo out, Americans alive

The Paris Masters isn’t turning out the way most would have predicted for a Masters 1000.

It seemed – especially with Rafael Nadal’s knee injury – that the path was clear for the in-form Juan Martin del Potro to win his quarterfinal match Friday and thus qualify for the eighth and final spot at the ATP Tour Finals in London.

But that’s not how it went down.

Instead, American John Isner kept his hopes alive with a 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory that eliminated the Argentine from contention.

“It was very satisfying and I was confident going into this match. I took the court knowing that I’ve been playing pretty well. And also playing with a bit of house money after yesterday, being down 5-2 in the third set (against Grigor Dimitrov). I sort of escaped yesterday and was given some new life today and I think I took advantage of it,” Isner told the media in London.

“Going into this tournament I wasn’t thinking about (London) at all. I was sort of thinking about what football games I’m going to watch back home when this tournament is over. But now, certainly I’m not going to lie to you guys, it’s in my mind now. It would be great to qualify for that.”

The win didn’t put Isner in London. To do that, he’ll have to win the whole thing.

Sock looks dead, but he’s still alive

Meanwhile, on the other side of the draw, Isner’s countryman Jack Sock also kept his hopes alive with a testy, late-night win over a game Fernando Verdasco.

The 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 win also puts Sock in the semifinals.

He, too, must win the Paris Masters to claim that final spot. Given he stood 24th at the beginning of the week, it would be a serious longshot win if he made it.

A lot of things had to happen. And most of them did.

Roger Federer’s last-minute withdrawal helped. And then, there was 35-year-old Julien Benneteau’s march through the draw.

After outlasting Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov in the first round, Benneteau went on a tear. He upset No. 11 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round and No. 7 David Goffin in the third round. Goffin only needed to win that match to qualify for London; he ended up making it because other players lost.

On Friday, Benneteau pulled off another big upset when he defeated No. 3 seed Marin Cilic.

Then, there was Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal before his quarterfinal match.

Carreño Busta sits, and waits

alive
Carreño Busta can only sit and wait while the Americans decide his fate.

The leader in the clubhouse for that final London slot is Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta, who went out in the second round in Paris to Nicolas Mahut, who then went out to qualifier Filip Krajinovic.

But unless either Isner or Sock wins the title, Carreño Busta will squeeze in.

In Saturday’s semifinals, the two have caught significant breaks. Isner won’t play Nadal, but the qualifier Krajinovic, who was the beneficiary of Nadal’s withdrawal.

Sock will face Benneteau, who is having the tournament of his career in his last trip to Bercy.

It all sets up to be quite a weekend – especially if Isner and Sock, who are good pals, both win and square off in a one-match shootout in Sunday’s final.

One win for del Potro, and he’s in

If Juan Martin del Potro defeats John Isner Friday in the Paris Masters quarterfinals, he’ll be the eighth and final qualifier for the ATP Tour finals in London.

Had someone told him this would happen just two months ago, when he stood at No 47 in the race, no doubt he would have laughed.

But somehow, the body has held up through a long stretch of tournaments, since then,  in which he has gone 20-4.

A title in Stockholm, a final in Basel and semifinals at the US Open and the Masters 1000 in Shanghai have brought him to this point.

At the beginning of the Paris Masters, there were seven players in the running for the final two spots.

By Thursday, despite David Goffin’s desultory defeat at the hands of wild card Julien Benneteau, he was almost in.

There was only one way the Belgian, who missed the entire grass-court swing after damaging his ankle on court during his third-round match at the French Open, could fail to become the first from his country to make the Tour Finals.

Pouille done

If France’s Lucas Pouille reached the final, and defeated del Potro there, those two would have made London. And Goffin would have been out.

But Pouille was beaten by Jack Sock later on Thursday. That eliminated him, and qualified Goffin.

Now, only one question remains.

Isner and del Potro have met eight times, going all the way back to 2008. Del Potro has won six of the eight – including the last two. He’s 4-2 against Isner in tiebreaks.

If del Potro beats Isner, he not only eliminates Isner, he also eliminates Pablo Carreño Busta (the leader in the clubhouse at this point, after losing in the second round) and Jack Sock.

Sock is not dead yet

Because, yes – Sock remains alive in the race to London.

His name doesn’t come up much; he’s definitely the sleeper, technically standing in 21st place in the race as of Thursday night.

If Isner beats del Potro, he’ll knock out the Argentine. But he still would have to win the whole tournament (including a potential victory over Rafael Nadal in the semifinals) to eliminate Carreño Busta.

Sock also would have to win the tournament. In the bottom of the draw, he has Fernando Verdasco in the quarterfinals, and the winner between Marin Cilic and Julien Benneteau in a potential semifinal.

Potro
Paris finals shootout for the final London spot? All-American style.

Obviously del Potro qualifying would be the most popular outcome in many quarters.

But if that doesn’t happen … how about a one-match, throw-em-down showdown in the Paris Masters final between the two Americans, with the winner getting a trip to London?

Europe 7, World … 1 – but a fun one

So far, the Laver Cup tussle between Europe and “World” has gone pretty much as expected.

One-way traffic for Team Europe.

After three sessions, they lead the exhibition event 7-1.

But for a couple of unlucky let cords and a few inches, a win by Jack Sock over Rafael Nadal Saturday might have made it 5-3. But it didn’t go his way.

That one Team World win, though, was a whole lot of fun.

Here are some highlights of that doubles match (screenshots from the Laver Cup livestream).

The comedy duo of Jack Sock and Nick Kyrgios took on the pickup team of Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych Friday night, and took it to them.

For Nadal and Berdych (who didn’t play well in front of his home crowd), there was basically no chemistry. For Sock and Kyrgios, simpatico friends off the court who often practice together, it was business as usual.

Fire and Ice in Prague

The contrast between corporate button-down Team Europe and loosey-goosey, young, energetic Team World probably will go down as a highlight in a competition that has not been competitive so far.

The purists (perhaps buying the talking point that this is “not an exhibition”) may be offended by the tons of fun the non-playing members are having at the side of the court. 

The kids probably don’t care.

If you can’t win, at least you can have a good time.

Great Sock towel heist ends well

WIMBLEDON – It doesn’t take much for a video to spread like wildfire – especially if there’s a kid and some mean adults involved.

And so, one teenager immediately became social-media famous this week.

Video of American player Jack Sock’s first round match appeared to show a grown man aggressively fighting for a towel thrown by Sock in the kid’s direction.

The reality is not quite so clear-cut, of course.

Sock didn’t even look up as he threw the towel, and underthrew it if he was aiming at the kid.

So in fact, the kid reached over to where the man and his wife were comfortably ensconced in their front-row seats (in matching shirts and coordinated hats, no less) to get the towel.

Nevertheless, what grown man will tug-of-war so relentlessly to take a souvenir towel away from a kid? 

This man.

Meanwhile, the man’s wife just smirked, and never broke rhythm with the chewing gum.

Social media to the rescue

Sock got wind of it, and reached out on social media.

The 24-year-old American called the fellow an “elderly man”.

That probably hurt more than the towel burns he got in securing possession of the souvenir.

On Wednesday, a representative from Sock’s management agency, IMG, said the young fan had been found and that he was from Ireland.

“He is gone home now but Jack invited him to his matches and said he will send him a towel,” the spokesperson said.

But …. hold the phone.

It turned out the kid from Ireland was scamming. The real kid was an American kid from Philadelphia named Peter Woodville.

His mother Faiézé, who is on Twitter but had barely Tweeted until this week, had it brought to her attention, and responded.

The proof was in the cap. It’s from the boarding school Peter Woodville’s father attended – one of the most exclusive schools in the U.S.

The school, of course, jumped on the opportunity to recognize its alumnus. Even snooty prep schools are on Twitter!

Peter came back the next day – he and his family queued up for five hours to get back onto the grounds – and got his towel. And a photo.

“He was upset. He told me he was shocked more than anything. Because in the states at a lot of these sporting events, if adults catch a ball or something they go out of their way to give it to the youngsters. They don’t keep it for themselves. He was very disappointed and I think he was shocked,” mother Faézé told the British Associated Press.

That’s far from true. Old guys wrestle foul balls from young kids in the stands at baseball games all the time. But it’s always better to remember the good people.

Ready for his closeup

In the meantime, the 14-year-old did what a 14-year-old in this day and age does. He got on Twitter and started fielding media inquiries that pretty much sounded like this: “Hi, I’m a journalist. Can you follow me so I can DM you a few questions about the towel?”

As for the well-hatted couple, you hope they headed home and had some of their other grownup friends give them the what-for.

Certainly no one sitting around them did – Wimbledon fans are far too decorous.