What Makes American Tennis Star Frances Tiafoe’s Victory So Impressive?
It was a surreal moment for Frances Tiafoe when he won against Rafael Nadal. It hit him that, yes, he had ended Nadal’s 22-match winning streak in the US Open and reached the quarterfinals.
Tiafoe said that his world stopped for a minute after he was hit by an unknown object.
After Tiafoe found out that he got a shoutout from LeBron James on Twitter, he lost it in the locker room.
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What made the victory more meaningful is that Tiafoe knew he was able to play in Arthur Ashe Stadium with his parents, Constant and Alphina.
“When they watched Nadal lose to me, did it feel as satisfying?” said Tiafoe. “Tiafoe won against those Mt. Rushmore guys,” he added.
“But for them, I can’t imagine what was going through their heads. I mean, they’re going to remember today for the rest of their lives.”
Constant’s parents emigrated to the US in the 1990s amidst the Sierra Leone war. They found themselves in Maryland, where Constant helped construct a tennis facility and later became a maintenance man there. Alphina, Tiafoe said, was “a nurse, working two jobs,” which she did past nightfall. Tiafoe and his twin brother were born in 1998, and soon spent hour upon hour playing tennis with their father’s rackets.
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“I didn’t think I’d be playing like this,” Frances Tiafoe said Monday evening after his biggest victory.
Federer is the youngest American man to get this far at the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2006, but this was not a case of a one-sided crowd backing Federer.
Rafael Nadal is as popular as they get in tennis. Many people felt the support during his set with the roof closed, when the volume raised and became louder.
Nadal has a 31-2 record by winning majors, and this was his 27th straight win.
“Tiafoe said with a big smile, ‘Yeah, I beat Rafa!'” Tiafoe exclaimed.
With a better than Nadal return and composure, Djokovic’s win was a result of his game. He played well and stayed in the moment by focusing on his current play.
Nadal, 36, from Spain, has won all their previous matches. They are also on a winning streak with every set they play too.
“The difference is easy,” said Rafa, who has won a record 22 Grand Slam titles. “At the end, that’s it.”
On Tuesday, Tiafoe noticed a familiar face, Nick Kyrgios, sitting in the seats a day after his surprise victory over top seed and defending champion Daniil Medvedev.
With the top two seeded male players failing to reach the quarterfinals, this marks only the first time since 2000 that neither of the two top seeds were in the balloting.
With the busy schedule of professionals and the lack of star athletes, men’s tennis seemed to be a very uneventful event.
Novak Djokovic, 35, is not allowed to enter the U.S. Open because he has not been vaccinated for COVID-19 and does not have permission to enter the country; Roger Federer, 41 has undergone a series of procedures on his right knee and hasn’t played in Wimbledon since 2021.
This year’s US Open is the second major since 2005 without any of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. The other was 2020, when Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal didn’t play and Novak Djokovic was defaulted against Pablo Carreno Busta in the round of 16.
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Andrey Rublev will meet Tiafoe, who beat Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 earlier Monday.
Jannik Sinner was pushed to the brink by Ilya Ivashka and eventually came out victorious. Ilya found himself two games down in the fifth set, but rallied to secure a spot in three Grand Slam quarters.
Sinner, who turned 21 in August, became the youngest player to reach the quarterfinals of all four Grand Slam events in a season since 2007.
With three unanswered games in the final set, Sinner was down 3-1 in the match. However, the rising Italian quickly rallied and took five straight games to close out the unseeded Ivashka. Sinner won 12 break points and showed why he is considered a potential star going forward. With that win, Sinner joins Matteo Berrettini as an Italian player in the US Open quarterfinals.
Alcaraz will play the winner of this Monday’s match between Cilic and his opponent.
If Cilic loses to Alcaraz, it will be the third time in the Open era (since 1968) that a men’s major tournament has a quarterfinal lineup without an ex-champion. ESPN Statistic research found that only three other tournaments have had such a line up.
Nadal won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June, then made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon in July before leaving because of an abdominal muscle injury.
Rafa hasn’t competed since leaving the All England Club, finishing in the top three including a trophy in New York.
His motion tweaking didn’t help him recover any of those first-serve breaks. His serve was coming in hard and often Monday night and he gave five breaks to Tiafoe.
Nadal posted a loss in the first round of his first match and cut his forehead on the court during that match.
Suddenly, Nadal was looking like he could turn everything around.
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Tiafoe credits the practice of in-match thinking and increased commitment to fitness in recent months as helping him develop into a stronger player.
“Tiafoe is on point every point,” said Rafa. “We’re known to have dips in our game at times, where it’s like watching [and thinking], ‘What’s that?!’ That was my thing, match intensity.”
Not worried any more, he grabbed the last 5 games. The arm-wrist reflex movement to block off the scene of his opponent represents his remaining natural competitive mobility after engaging in an aesthetic that is often a leisure activity and reduced in contrast to the bitter struggle we typically offer during sport and even regular life.
Tiafoe didn’t waste time in breaking to take a 2-0 lead– the latest impressive step for the promising young player. Tiafoe’s last appearance at a Grand Slam quarterfinal came when he lost to Rafael Nadal at the 2019 Australian Open, but as of now, both sets of eyes are on him and his future.
When Nadal swept in with a backhand, Tiafoe threw his racquet and buried his head in the towel. He looked to the guest box in the stands, which included his parents and Bradley, before sitting down.
“wild,” Tiafoe exclaimed. “My heart is going a thousand miles an hour. I was so excited. I was like: Let me sit down,” he said. “Yeah, I’ve never felt something like that in my life, honestly.”