The biggest moment of Frances Tiafoe’s career came in New York. He reached the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time defeating Diego Schwartzman, Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev back-to-back before eventually falling in five sets to Carlos Alcaraz.
Though he didn’t go two wins further, it felt like a dream realised. America fawned over Tiafoe’s run, Michele Obama met him in person to congratulate him and he was left with the most important tool a tennis player can have at their disposal.
“Craziest two weeks of my life… I just proved I’m capable of winning Grand Slams.”
Going into the US Open however, Tiafoe had posted a very middling 21-18 record on the season featuring one final in Estoril and just three other quarterfinal appearances.
Yet Tiafoe’s run to the semifinals never felt like a huge surprise. He had been losing a lot but he’d been losing well. Here are the moments throughout Tiafoe’s season that showed the writing was on the wall leading up to the biggest moment of the American’s career.
If we isolate Tiafoe’s pre-US-Open form further, he was only able to break even in wins/losses in the ten events he’d played preceding the final Slam of the year, going 10-10 in that time.
After he stepped off the clay however, Tiafoe was pushing his opponents to their absolute limits. He lost seven matches previous to Flushing Meadows but took six of those seven losses to a deciding set. Take his loss to Stan Wawrinka at Queen’s Club as a showcase for Tiafoe’s fight and grit – that match featured three tiebreaks with Tiafoe having his serve broken only once over the course of three hours.
130mph were a feature of Tiafoe’s US Open run. He’d previously had problems maintaining a high level for the entirety of a length match – here he showed he now had the focus required to consistently use his serve to trouble his opponents.
Though Tiafoe had posted poor results at the Australian Open and the French Open, he was able to put together a run to the fourth-round of Wimbledon that proved crucial to his mindset going into the US Open.
Tiafoe lost to David Goffin in five extremely close sets going down 7-5 in the decider after holding two break points on the Belgian’s serve at 5-5. The loss may have stung but it almost certainly proved crucial to his performance in New York. Tiafoe knew only the smallest improvement was required in his game to reach another Slam quarterfinal and, most importantly, he hadn’t been overawed in his match against Goffin.
Stepping out to face Nadal in the fourth-round of the US Open, this loss to Goffin was the perfect preparation.
So Close Against The Best
Along with his loss to Goffin at Wimbledon, there were a few other matches that were tantalisingly close against some of the best players in the world.
- Tiafoe lost in three sets to Taylor Fritz in Cincinnati. Fritz had won Indian Wells that year and had shown he was a force to be reckoned with on the big stage in his Wimbledon quarterfinal run. He was one of the form players of the tour and Tiafoe led him 4-0 in their third set. Unfortunately, the wheels came off and he lost six games in a row.
- Tiafoe lost in three sets to Nick Kyrgios in Washington. Kyrgios had reached the final of Wimbledon and would go on to show his win over Daniil Medvedev in Montreal was no fluke as he also beat him in New York. Unfortunately, Tiafoe saw five match points come and go in their quarterfinal second-set tiebreak.
Tiafoe alluded to losses like this after beating Matteo Berrettini in the first-round of Cincinnati.
“People don’t understand, obviously results haven’t really shown how well I’ve been playing. I’ve been playing some great tennis, honestly… I really just needed this. I know it’s a first-round match…. But everyone knew why I needed this against a quality player, so it was big.”
Tiafoe knew how well he was playing. He knew he pushing the very best to their limits, coming a whisker away from some huge results. He may have surprised the world in New York but Frances Tiafoe knew he deserved to make the semifinals that fortnight.
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