NEW YORK — About 20 minutes after Frances Tiafoe reached the semifinals of the US Open for the first time by an American since 2006 on Wednesday, he was reunited in a foyer of Arthur Ashe Stadium with a host of friends, the Washington Wizards All-Star Warden Bradley Beal among them.
Everyone exchanged warm hugs and big smiles. Tiafoe shouted, “Let’s pose for an awesome photo!” and she obliged. As the nine-person line gathered, someone shouted, “Throw a ‘Dub!’ up!” so Tiafoe and others formed a “W”—as in winning—by connecting the thumb and forefinger of both hands. Tiafoe’s girlfriend ran through the nearby double doors, jumped into his arms, gave him a kiss and then wiped the lipstick from his mouth.
Certainly a showman and someone who has been striving for such success on big stages for years, Tiafoe is enjoying the ride, as are his friends, his parents and the partisan fans who recently celebrated a Grand Slam trophy for a man from the United States States two decades ago.
Tiafoe managed the tricky task of following up the biggest win of his career over 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round with another milestone victory by defeating 9th-seeded Andrey Rublev 7-6 (3), 7: defeated. 6 (0), 6-4 behind supporting a boisterous crowd on Wednesday.
“I love showing the world what I can do,” said 24-year-old Tiafoe, number 22 at Flushing Meadows, who became the first black American to reach the semifinals of the US Open since Arthur Ashe in 1972. “I just want to get out there.” and try to give the audience what they want – and it’s me who wins.”
Andy Roddick, standing in the Ashe stands on Wednesday, became the last US man to reach the semifinals in New York, losing to Roger Federer in the title fight 16 years ago. Roddick was also the last man from the country to win a Grand Slam singles championship with the 2003 US Open.
Competing at this year’s US Open, American men have completed 74 straight majors since Roddick won in 2003, which is the longest major title drought the US men have had in tennis history.
Among active American men, Tiafoe is only the second after John Isner (Wimbledon 2018) to reach a major semifinal.
None of the men left in the bracket this time have ever won a major trophy. Tiafoe’s first career Slam semifinal comes on Friday against No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz, who saw No. 11 Jannik Sinner go 6-3 6-7 6-7 7-5 6-6 in his quarterfinal match 3 defeated.
“Frances is such a fantastic young man. Good things happen to good people,” said Tournament Director Stacey Allaster. “Regardless of how he ends, this was a monumental development in his career and he will only build on the learning and success of this US Open.”
That step forward came with the help of Tiafoe’s coach, former professional player Wayne Ferreira, who said the player wasn’t “really professional enough” before and pointed to important changes in his eating habits – there were such too much chocolate and cookies and too little breakfast – practice and work out in the gym.
“It has taken some time to gradually get to where we are today,” said Ferreira. “I kind of envisioned that he would be at his best by the end of next year.”
On Wednesday, Tiafoe played aggressive, attacking tennis, never getting broken and using 18 aces along with powerful volleys to oust Rublev, a Russian who fell to 0-6 in the grand quarterfinals. Tiafoe won 31 of 41 points when he went to the net; Rublev only ventured forward 11 times.
Raindrops started falling just before the start of the Tiafoe vs. Rublev game, so they stood around waiting for the retractable roof to close. This resulted in a cool, wind-free environment and a noisier environment, with fan applause and shouts echoing in an indoor arena—circumstances that favored Tiafoe.
The only break of serve came after more than two hours when Tiafoe took a 4-3 lead in the decider, then stood largely motionless on the court, enjoying the crescendo of support. The other key moments came at the end of the first two sets; Tiafoe is 6-0 in a tiebreak at this US Open.
Rublev actually had the first chance to slam forward, with a set at 6-5 in the first, but Tiafoe erased it with a risky forehand to a corner that entailed a netted reply.
A few minutes later it was Tiafoe who took the set, sealed it with a 130-mile ace and then stalked to the change, nodding and pointing his racquet for more noise.
A similar scene played out in the second tiebreak after a drop volley from Tiafoe forced an error from Rublev to make it 6-0.
Hitting a backhand-backhand winner to seal a two-set lead, Tiafoe sprinted to the sideline, taking a seat next to his messy collection of towels, shirts and socks that were spread out on the floor — call it “college dorms.” -Chic” or, to use his word, “devilish” – shaking his fist amid the delirium of a standing ovation.
“The best tiebreaker I’ll ever play,” said Tiafoe. “Frankly, a ridiculous tiebreaker. You can’t make that up.”
Rublev never tried to hide his anger at the way things were going. He hit his leg with his racquet or hit the strings. He kept gesturing and yelling at his guest box, where only four of the 15 seats were occupied, in quite a contrast to Tiafoe’s completely packed section.
Ferreira was there. So is Tiafoe’s agent, Jill Smoller, whose clients include Serena Williams. Also Tiafoe’s twin brother Franklin and their parents, who emigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone in the 1990s during a civil war there. They lived in Maryland, where Dad helped build a junior tennis center and then worked there as a janitor, getting Frances and Franklin to pick up a racquet.
“Yes, it’s a great story. Hopefully one day there will be a movie about it,” Ferreira said. “But he has to win the Grand Slam first. You only get films if you do well.”
The guy known to everyone in esports as “Big Foe” took up the issue, saying, “Everybody loves a Cinderella story. I’m just trying to make one.”
So far, so good.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
https://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/34544209/american-frances-tiafoe-downs-andrey-rublev-straight-sets-moves-us-open-semifinals Frances Tiafoe downs Andrey Rublev in straight sets, becomes first American man to make US Open semifinals since 2006