What A Triumph For Tiafoe And American Men’s Tennis

Frances Tiafoe (photo: Simon Bruty/USTA)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

No American man since Hall of Famer Andy Roddick in 2003 has won the US Open – or any other major tournament. No American since Roddick in 2006 has even made the semifinals at Flushing Meadows until Frances Tiafoe shattered the metaphoric glass ceiling inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on the biggest stage in tennis Thursday afternoon. He channeled the support of the home crowd whose energy he fed off of under the closed roof.

Two days after eliminating World No. 3 and second seed Rafael Nadal in four sets with his biggest win to date, Tiafoe returned to the scene of his triumph and gave a poised and powerful performance in defeating World No. 11 and No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4, in two hours and 36 minutes.

The victory lifted the 22nd seed Tiafoe, a native of Hyattsville, Md. who turned pro in 2015 and is playing in his 26th major, into Friday’s semifinals against World No. 4 and third seed Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, who needed five hours and 15 minutes to defeat World No. 13 and 11th seed Jannik Sinner of Italy, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3, after fighting off match point in the fourth set in the latest finish ever at the US Open early Thursday morning. The match ended at 2:50 a.m., 24 minutes later than the previous record that was shared by three matches.

The other Friday semifinal will be between World No. 7 and fifth seed Casper Ruud of Norway and No. 27 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia. One thing’s certain: there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion crowned. Tiafoe figures, “Why not me?”

Playing with freedom and a sense of self-belief that anything’s possible – “I believe I can do it this year,” Tiafoe said in an ESPN interview after his match – the 24-year-old is into his first Grand Slam semifinal of his career.

Tiafoe fired 18 aces, won 88 percent of his first-serve points, hit 46 winners to 38 unforced errors, won all of his service games and outpointed Rublev 121-100.

On top of all of the accolades coming Tiafoe’s way, he is also the first Black man from the United States to reach a US Open semifinal since Arthur Ashe 50 years ago in 1972.

“This is wild. This is crazy,” Tiafoe said in his on-court interview with ESPN’s James Blake. “I had the biggest win of my life 24 hours ago and coming out an getting another big win … Andrey’s a hell of a player, and to back it up, that’s huge. It’s tough to turn the page, but I did and now I’m in the semis.

“I feel so at home on courts like his. This court is unbelievable. [The crowd] gets so far behind me. I want to play, I want to give my best. I always find a way somehow on this court. I always play some great tennis and I have been. Let’s enjoy this, we’ve got two more.”

New York brings out best in Sabalenka’s mental and physical game

New York seems to bring out the best in Aryna Sabalenka‘s tennis game. Not since last year at the 2021 US Open, when she reached the semifinals, has she won five consecutive matches. Fast forward to 2022 at the US Open, and once again, the No. 6 seed from Belarus has strung together five straight victories and with it, earned another semifinal berth.

Wednesday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Sabalenka easily defeated No. 22 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 7-6 (4), in an hour and 22 minutes to advance to Thursday’s semifinal round. She became the first woman since Serena Williams in 2019 and 2020 to reach consecutive US Open semifinals.

During her post-match interview, Sabalenka credited the fans of New York – “the people” – for helping her excel and be motivated, both mentally and physically,

Sabalenka fired seven aces, struck 30 winners and won 72 percent of her first-serve points against Pliskova. She also converted three of seven break points and won all of her service games. Sabalenka outpointed her opponent 70-56. Pliskova managed just one ace and 10 winners and committed 23 unforced errors.

After saving two match points against Kaia Kanepi in the second round and coming back to beat No. 19 see Danielle Collins in three sets during their fourth round match, Sabalenka had an easier go against Pliskova. She’s now won her last three major singles quarterfinals – all in straight sets.

Next, Sabalenka will face World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who defeated No. 8 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States, 6-3, 7-6 (4), to reach her first US Open semifinal and her third major semifinal of the season. She’s the first Polish woman to reach the US Open semifinals.

“Semifinal, it’s going to be tough,” Sabalenka said during her on-court interview with ESPN‘s Rennae Stubbs. “I’m ready for another fight. I have to stay focused on myself.”

Swiatek first women’s No. 1 seed to reach US Open semifinals since 2016

The Polish star completed the women’s semifinal lineup with her win over the American No. 1 Pegula in an hour and 51 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium Wednesday evening. It was Swiatek’s 55th match win of 2022 – she’s 19-2 in Grand Slam matches – and kept her hopes alive of winning her third Grand Slam title after capturing two of the last three French Open crowns.

Swiatek hit 22 winners to 14 for Pegula and won 61 percent of her return points. She converted seven of 11 breaks points.

Looking ahead to her semifinal clash with Sabalenka, Swiatek leads their head-to-head 3-1. Although Sabalenka won their first meeting at last year’s WTA Finals, Swiatek has rebounded with three wins this season.

The other women’s semifinal matches No. 5 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia against No. 17 seed Caroline Garcia of France.

Krejcikova and Siniakova through to doubles semifinals

Third-seee Czech doubles stars Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, the highest seeded team remaining in the women’s doubles draw, advanced to the semifinals with a 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 win over No. 5 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Giuliana Olmos of Mexico Wednesday afternoon in Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Next, Krejcikova and Siniakova, who are looking to win their third major crown this season to go with their titles won at the Australian Open and Wimbledon Championships, will face Nicole Melichar of the United States and Ellen Perez of Australia in the semifinal round.

In the other semifinal, unseeded Americans Taylor Townsend and Caty McNally will face No. 12 seeds Storm Sanders of Australia and Caroline Dolehide of the United States.

Townsend and McNally upset No. 6 seeds Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States, 6-3, 6-1, while Sanders and Dolehide defeated French duo and reigning French Open champs Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia, who were seeded 14th, 6-3, 6-3.

Wednesday’s US Open results

Thursday’s US Open order of play

By the numbers

• At age 19, Carlos Alcaraz is the youngest man to reach US Open quarterfinals in back back-to-back years since Aussie legends Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall at the 1952 and 1953 US Championships, as the US Open was formerly knownbefore 1968. Alcaraz is looking to become the youngest Grand Slam men’s semifinalist, finalist and champion since Rafael Nadal at 19 during the 2005 French Open. He is also trying to become the youngest US Open men’s semifinalist, finalist and champion since Pete Sampras at 19 in 1990.

• With his loss to Frances Tiafoe, Andrey Rublev is now 0-6 in quarterfinal matches at Grand Slams. Despite the setback, his latest run will lift him back into the Top 10 of the  Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, rising two spots to No. 9.

“Quotable …”

“I’m starting to know how to really come to Slams and be ready. I think getting to the secon week, not losing a set, helps. Things like that. Resting. I haven’t [gone] to dinner out once. Doing Uber East’s and stuff, just chilling.

“Yeah, I’m just kind of approaching this a lot different.”

– American Frances Tiafoe on how he has adjusted off the court after reaching the second week of the US Open.