Escape room and beerpong to keep chemistry going: United States crowned in the United Cup
SYDNEY – The North Americans keep laughing and cracking jokes at the press conference, with the cup glittering in the middle. “The champs are here,” Frances Tiafoe repeats over and over.
Jessica Pegula can’t concentrate in front of the reporters amid so many comments for laughs: “Sorry, what was your question? I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Peroni,” Tiafoe clarifies, joking that the Italian beer that the United Cup champions were drinking from the locker room to the press room is to blame for the lack of seriousness in front of the microphones.
The United States won the first edition of the United Cup by a landslide, with no counterbalance from the start and showing fantastic “team energy”. They swept Italy 4-0 in the final thanks defeats by Pegula, Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Madison Keys. In the semifinals they beat Iga Swiatek’s Poland, also without losing matches.
From the moment they arrived in Australia, the US-born tennis players, all between 24 and 28 years of age, showed complicity and a very friendly atmosphere on and off the court.
“It was a great team from the start. We had too much fun in this eternity we’ve been together in Sydney. We’ve bonded a lot, I feel like we’ve been able to get to know each other better. I did not think I’d be doing escape rooms with these people,” says the WTA No. 3.
The game of mental dexterity that consists of solving riddles to unravel a story in order to get out of a room before time runs out, was the tool that united the champions of the mixed tennis event.
On Thursday, as Greece, Italy and Poland traveled to Sydney from Perth and Brisbane, the Americans took advantage of staying in land, and went on their day off to see who took the least time to solve the puzzles. The women won. “Guys were salty,” Pegula recounted.
“We did like three in one week. Yesterday everyone was saying we need one more to keep the team chemistry going. In Melbourne we might do another escape room. We have to stay all locked in,” Pegula believes it’s the formula for success. Tiafoe reinforces the idea: “You’re not going to change a winning strategy”.
The two of them hit together every morning at Sydney Olympic Park. “You’ll see a lot of practice between Pegula and Tiafoe from now on.”
The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone apologizes to reporters. “I’m sorry, if you ask any other question, we’ll be serious.”
Seeing these guys do their thing, it’s special. Like seeing Fritz the last couple days play — can’t lose a tiebreaker is insane. Seeing Jessica give an absolute lesson to the World No. 1 is crazy. Madison winning a huge match to get us over the line the other day against Great Britain, it was, like, it’s just crazy,” Tiafoe confesses.
Pegula pours more beer into the trophy they’ve just won. She asks Fritz to help her lift it so she can drink from it, because it is so heavy. It weighs 14 kilos and it’s very likely that if she tries to do it alone, she’ll spurt the whole thing. It happens to her anyways. Then it was Fritz’s turn. The ATP number 9 defeated Matteo Berrettini 7-6(4), 7-6(6) sealing the victory of the United States over Italy.
“Wait, we cannot waste this,” Pegula comments before retrieving some of the beer poured on the trophy with a glass.
Then, back at the hotel, the celebration continues with beerpong: large red plastic cups spread out on the edges of a table, and table tennis balls being thrown across.
The Italians join in, and when Berrettini and company appear, the champions shout with joy.
On the court with racquets and tennis balls, team USA won. With the ping pong balls, it might have been another story.
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