The US Open men’s semifinals take place on Friday, and we’re previewing the match taking place in the bottom half of the draw. Carlos Alcaraz, who somehow survived an epic against Jannik Sinner, squares off against Frances Tiafoe, who capitalized on his win over Rafael Nadal in defeating Andrey Rublev, with both playing for their chance to reach a maiden Grand Slam final.
Will Alcaraz’s fitness be an issue after Wednesday? Does Tiafoe have what it takes to pull off the upset? Here’s our thoughts.
The Tournament So Far
Tiafoe has dropped one set so far… A single solitary set to the men’s Grand Slam leader Rafael Nadal.
He can thank his clutch tennis this week for that. Harken back to his match against Diego Schwartzman in the third-round when he prevented the Argentinian from serving out the first set thrice and and thrice saved set points against him in the tiebreak.
Tiafoe can also thank his serve in particular for his success. The American has been feeling it this fortnight – though he missed a high percentage of first-serves in his fourth-round, his 130mph+ delivery caused Nadal, one of the game’s all-time-great returners to guess at times. It’s earned him an extremely healthy first-serve win percentage that’s seen him get broken on only five occasions in his *four matches (*excluding the returning freak of nature that is Diego Schwartzman).
Carlos Alcaraz has had a far bumpier road in putting together consecutive five-set wins over Marin Cilic and Jannik Sinner.
There is a strong argument to be made however that both these opponents–especially Sinner–challenged Alcaraz more than Nadal and Rublev did Tiafoe and that actually this could stand Alcaraz in good stead.
Fatigue? Alcaraz has been perfectly preparing for moments like his whole life. The teenager has won five matches this year that have lasted over three hours (besides the one to Sinner on Thursday)–in all five proceeding matches, he’s won.
Expect Tiafoe to continue to play to a higher level than we’ve seen from him in previous Slam appearances and expect Alcaraz to come out as fresh as ever.
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Carlos Alcaraz vs Frances Tiafoe: The Match-Up
With both players playing near the peak of their powers, how do their games match-up?
These courts reward great serving and frankly Tiafoe’s placement on first-serve far outshines Alcaraz’s–he will possess the ability to win invaluable cheap points on serve. Conversely, Alcaraz will likely continue to look for short replies rather than no reply at all on his own service delivery. This could be brutal for Alcaraz out the gates with both men’s legs fresh, Tiafoe potentially able to make Alcaraz’s life trouble on return.
This does also mean that as the match wears on and his legs tire, Tiafoe’s serve could wane slightly–that’s when Alcaraz can pounce. He has been ruthless from the back of the court and absolutely has what it takes to rush Tiafoe’s forehand off of second-serve returns, or from any position mid-rally for that matter (note that Nadal really struggled to attack Tiafoe’s heavy second-serve delivery throughout their fourth-round encounter – do not expect the same from the flat injection of pace Alcaraz can enact on the ball).
Here’s how we see things playing out.
Either Tiafoe gets off to a great start on serve and is able to wrangle enough return games to wrap things up quickly or Alcaraz keeps things going long enough to make things brutally physical.
Frances Tiafoe need to win in straight sets or he doesn’t win at all.
Obviously we’ve got to back Alcaraz with those chances but Tiafoe has only dropped one set all fortnight… Don’t miss this enthralling semifinal encounter this Friday!
Main Photo from Getty.