There are many different types of pressure that tennis players can exert on their opponents during a match.
Burst the big serve after the big serve. Hit deep. Build base lane to push your opponent to the end of the field. Break the net and stand there, fearless, only 35 feet away. There’s even the pressure of the scoreboard that comes with the leaders in the game, or the gentlest of drops that can land like cuts in the gut.
The ability to get a crowd of more than 20,000 people to raise the decibels to annoying levels at key moments is also useful.
Frances Tiafoe, who used all of those skills and more in a tight three-set win over Russia’s Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, also has another tool. On hot, sweaty afternoons, when he changed his shirt, he sat bare-chested on a chair for a bit, his muscles billowing across his back, showing a figure more befitting of a mixed ring than a man. tennis course.
To defeat him, opponents must pass that, which can be kept in mind during important neurological tests known as tiebreakers. Tiafoe won, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4, in a match that lasted a very long time, except when Tiafoe got ahead in the tiebreak, as he did 10 days. He has played six tiebreaks in this tournament and has won them all, including a 7-0 gem against Rublev in the second set on Wednesday.
“Best hitter I ever played,” Tiafoe said after the game. “Comical.”
No American man has won the US Open or any Grand Slam title since 2003, when Andy Roddick, who was on Wednesday to watch Tiafoe, lift the trophy in New York. (NBA star Bradley Beal, a Tiafoe fan and his beloved Washington Wizards playmate, was also there.)
Sam Querrey, a major California serving athlete, made it to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2017 and John Isner got there in 2018. But even then, those moments were like the ceiling they were on. achieve.
This is different. At 24, Tiafoe beat Rafael Nadal Sunday in a nasty match when switching courts making him the first American born after 1989 to beat Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in a Grand Slam. The victory made him the youngest American to reach the quarterfinals of the US Open in 16 years.
He was agile and fearless, and served at more than 130 mph in match after game. He’s suddenly settled down after years of frequent peaks and dips in between sets and matches. His hands are always agile; they are equally soft now and can produce the gentlest volleys against the most furious front arms.
And with one final ace, he became a semi-finalist at the US Open, and an icon of hope in a country that has seen its women’s tennis players perform on the biggest stages in the world. the biggest game during the last decade and wonder when a man can come and be able to do the same.
Tiafoe will play the winner of Wednesday night’s match between Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old Spanish prodigy who would become the world’s top tennis player if he won the tournament, and Jannik Sinner, the tennis player. The 21-year-old Italian ranked 11th.
“I hope they play a marathon,” Tiafoe joked.
Many in the game consider Sinner vs. Alcaraz is a potential sequel to the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic showdown that has dominated the men’s game for more than 15 years. Tiafoe is keen to play a key role in any major sports defense story over the course of the next decade.
Three years ago at the Australian Open, the only time he made it to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, that seemed a possibility. But Tiafoe tumbled after that breakout, falling out of the top 80 of the world rankings.
Then, starting about two years ago with the US Open 2020, a tournament played near the height of the pandemic without spectators, Tiafoe began a steady climb back into the top 30, and recently tried trying to catch up with other top Americans. around his age, a group that included Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul, with whom he grew up. Sometimes it’s not the speed that matters most, but the direction.
“Some players have a hard time being really, really talented and not playing the game the way they do,” said Wayne Ferreira, a leading pundit in the 1980s and 1990s who coached Tiafoe for the past two years. you need to do. “The amount of food consumed is terrible and the effort in training and on the field is not good enough.”
Tiafoe played quite well on Wednesday, now, which is a remarkable five days in which he has been the highlight of a tournament that has not been lacking since the first ball hit the air.
First, fans came to Serena Williams at this US Open to see the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion make one final take. Then they came to Coco Gauff, Williams’ apparent 18-year-old heir. And on Wednesday, they went to Arthur Ashe Stadium for Tiafoe.
Many of them probably didn’t know who the no longer-really-young kid from Hyattsville, Md., was when the tournament started. They certainly know him now, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, who started playing tennis because his father was a janitor at a local tennis club.
During matches, his bench was a mess, with rackets and towels everywhere.
“catabolism,” is how he describes it. His hotel room was that way, he said.
He has an innate love of light and the know-how to play before he screams, and a game quickly becomes as varied and creative as it is an exercise in both the pressures of power and the strength of one’s power. pressure. That pressure caused Rublev, a gentle soul, blazing on the tennis court, kicking balls in the final moments of a two-hour and 36-minute battle.
Rublev played Tiafoe almost in a draw for the first 100 minutes. Then there was the tiebreaker in the second set, and Tiafoe played the best seven points of his career, bullying Rublev into submission.
He smashed the serve back at Rublev’s feet, made two charming volleys, smashed two aces and finished the sweep with a stinging backhand winner he marked with this. is becoming his signature celebration – a sprint back to his patio chair.
Rublev, 9th seed, continued to fight hard but for the most part ended up with Tiafoe in top form. He cracked serve well during serve seven games later, launching an easy forehand, often one of the best shots in the game, into the middle of the net to give Tiafoe a clear shot of his serve. and then hit a backhand into the middle of the field. long time with Tiafoe standing at the net just a few feet away.
He’ll be back there on Friday, trying to pressurize again.