on the come up in Australia
Arthur Kapetanakis | January 28, 2019
“Rafa and these cats ain’t getting any younger, you know what I’m saying?”
Frances Tiafoe was not about to let a quarterfinal loss to the 32-year-old Nadal spoil his enthusiasm after a career-best major run at the Australian Open. With just five Grand Slam wins in 11 main-draw attempts entering 2019, the Maryland native nearly doubled that total in Melbourne, taking out No. 5 Kevin Anderson in Round 2 and No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov in Round 4 on the way to the last eight.
At 21, Tiafoe is at the head of the ATP’s Next Generation, his quarterfinal run among the early highlights of the new wave’s swell to the tennis summit long dominated by the likes of Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the men’s side.
One year after Korea’s Hyeon Chung reached the Australian Open semifinals on the heels of winning the ATP Next Gen trophy, Stefanos Tsitsipas matched that feat on both accounts. ADVERTISEMENT The Greek phenom, who defeated Tiafoe in the 2018 Next Gen event, cited the American’s four-set upset of Dimitrov as inspiration for his victory over Roger Federer.
Tiafoe was the only unseeded man to reach the Melbourne quarterfinals, coming in at No. 39 in the ATP Rankings, but his success boosted his post-tournament ranking to a career high of No. 30, good enough for a seed at Roland Garros should he maintain his position. He is now the No. 2-ranked American man, behind John Isner.
On the women’s side, another unseeded American upstart – 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova – reintroduced herself to the WTA’s elite, knocking off No. 24 Lesia Tsurenko in Round 2 and No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka in Round 3 en route to the last 16. Dazzling in her Australian Open debut, the 5-foot-11 prodigy was eventually turned back by finalist Petra Kvitova, an opponent she impressively beat at Indian Wells last March.
The 2017 US Open girls’ singles champion made her full-time professional debut in 2018, though a foot injury sidelined her for four months, and has the game and the build for success at the top level. After her third-round stunner over Sabalenka, Anisimova sidestepped a question about her ultimate tennis dream with a combination of youthful exuberance and veteran savvy – a one-two punch she had used to great effect on court to reach Round 4.
“I want to win this tournament right now,” she said with a laugh.
Though that dream did not come true, Anisimova promises to be a nightmare for her opponents for many years to come. Armed with a new career-high WTA ranking of No. 62 and precious few points to defend thanks to last spring’s injury, the Freehold, N.J., native is very much “on the come up,” as Tiafoe would say.
While Tiafoe and Anisimova made the biggest breakthroughs in Australia, they were far from the only young Americans to find success Down Under. Just days after winning her first WTA title, in Hobart, 20-year-old Sofia Kenin notched her first Australian Open win and took a set off world No. 1 Simona Halep before bowing out in a three-set battle. Like Tiafoe in Davis Cup, Kenin made her Fed Cup debut in 2018, playing two singles matches in the final as the U.S. fell to the Czech Republic. The Florida resident also continued the theme of leaving Australia with a career-high ranking in tow, at No. 36.
Taylor Fritz, 21, reached Round 3 for the second straight major, knocking out No. 30 Gael Monfils before holding his own in a defeat to Roger Federer in the last 32. The California native is himself enjoying a career-high as the ATP’s No. 40-ranked man, after defending his title at the Oracle ATP Challenger 125 event in Newport Beach, Calif., on Sunday.
During flu season in the U.S. winter, American success was contagious in the Australian summer, with Team USA’s juniors also getting in on the act. Emilio Nava reached the final of both the boys’ singles and doubles (with Cannon Kingsley) events, while Chloe Beck and Emma Navarro reached the girls’ doubles final.
And that’s not to mention 25-year-old Danielle Collins’ semifinal run. In the early stages of just her third full season as a professional, the University of Virginia graduate has proven that there’s more than one way to the top.
With all of this success, is it time to drop “rising” from the “rising stars” moniker on these young Americans? Is “Big ‘Foe” still on the come up, or has he arrived?
“Oh yeah, I’m definitely still on the come up, man," he said with a smile. “I don’t know when I want to say it, when I've got to say the come up’s over. Such a good hashtag, flows so well.
“That day’s definitely coming. I guess you just have to wait for the Insta[gram] post when it comes up.”