Tiafoe, Fritz earn upsets
on Aussie Open Day 3
Ashley Marshall | January 16, 2019
The luck of the draw, especially at the Grand Slam level, has rarely been kind to young American Frances Tiafoe. But on Wednesday in Melbourne, the 20-year-old took destiny in his own hands in what might be the start of his breakthrough into superstardom.
Tiafoe (pictured above) recorded the biggest upset of the 2019 Australian Open so far, rallying from a set down to beat US Open and Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, in what the Maryland native ranked among the biggest wins of his career.
“Probably, yeah. I mean, considering the circumstance, obviously in a Grand Slam. Yeah, still my biggest win is probably [Juan Martin del Potro] in Delray [in 2018], because him being my idol. [But] I've never felt something like that after winning a tennis match. The fact that it was a Grand Slam, second seed I beat, obviously a Top-5 player, it's pretty big.”ADVERTISEMENT
Tiafoe entered this year’s Australian Open with a 5-11 record in majors. Of those 11 losses, eight have been against seeds. Between Wimbledon 2017 and Roland Garros 2018, Tiafoe lost four consecutive Grand Slam matches to players with an average seed of nine.
While many players would be frustrated by continually drawing the likes of Roger Federer, Sascha Zverev and del Potro, Tiafoe saw it as a challenge: If he didn’t want to draw the best players in the world in the first round of majors, he had to improve his ranking to earn the protection afforded to seeds in the first week of majors. With his results so far in the first week in Australia, he's almost put himself in a position where he will be seeded for the first time at a major, possibly as early as Roland Garros in May.
Tiafoe had previously shown flashes of brilliance on the Grand Slam stage in many matches that left him so close to a major upset. He pushed John Isner to a fifth-set tiebreak in a memorable match inside the new Grandstand at the 2016 US Open, and he rallied from two sets down before eventually succumbing to Fabio Fognini in the first round of the French Open two summers ago.
He was on the cusp of a place in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon last summer before running out of steam in five sets against Karen Khachanov and, maybe most memorably, was within a few points of defeating Roger Federer in another epic five-setter on Day 2 of the 2017 US Open.
All of those experiences have led Tiafoe to where he is today – the 39th highest-ranked player in the world, one spot below his career high achieved last summer.
And on Wednesday, he showed the biggest sign yet of his seemingly limitless potential with a fine display that earned him the first Top-5 win of his career. Tiafoe has beaten highly ranked players before – he upset Zverev in Cincinnati in 2017, in addition to the win over del Potro in Delray Beach last year that he reference in his post-match press conference. But this win felt different, notably because it came in a best-of-five match on one of the world’s biggest stages against one of the most in-form players in the game.
“These are the matches where they kind of define you and help you feel more and more comfortable to keep winning matches like that,” said Tiafoe, who is projected to climb to a new career-high of at least No. 34 in the rankings. “So, yeah, I'm definitely going to remember this one.”
After losing the opening set when he was broken at 5-4, Tiafoe might have felt a sense of deja vu brewing; of being so close yet again but having little to show on the scoreboard for his efforts. But after falling behind 3-0 in the second set, the 20-year-old turned the match around, breaking Anderson twice in the second set and once each in the third and fourth sets. In fact, after being broken to go down a set and a break, Tiafoe didn't face another break point until he was serving for the match, 15 service games later.
“I was getting killed, man,” Tiafoe said of the early stages of the match. “Kind of just mix it up, play smarter. Don't try to go for cannons. Try to serve a bunch of first serves. Don't give him looks at seconds so he can be on the front foot and kind of be unpredictable.”
With the draw opening up around Tiafoe, there’s a real possibility of an even deeper run at Melbourne Park. Tiafoe faces Italian Andreas Seppi, the man who beat American No. 31 seed Steve Johnson in the opening round, in the Round of 32. The winner of that match could face No. 20 seed Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, since the next highest-ranked player in that mini section of the draw, No. 9 seed John Isner, was also among the Day-1 casualties Down Under.
Joining Tiafoe in the third round Wednesday was 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, who also made waves with an upset of flashy Frenchman and No. 30 seed Gael Monfils, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6.
Fritz, a former US Open boys’ champion, will get the prime-time treatment in Round 3 on Friday, likely in Rod Laver Arena, against six-time Aussie Open champion and 2018 winner Roger Federer, a player he remembers watching contest the 2009 US Open final when he was in fifth grade.
“We definitely pay attention to it,” Tiafoe said of the success of other young Americans in the draw. “Everyone wants to do better than the other person. But it's all good blood. We all want each other to do well.
“We actually had me, Macky [Mackenzie McDonald], Fritz, Tommy [Paul], Reilly [Opelka] – we had a massive dinner before the tournament started. How crazy is this? We're all in the main draw. I can remember us playing 12s Orange Bowl or something. We're all here now, all doing great things. It's unbelievable.”
Elsewhere on Day 3 at the Australian Open, No. 5 seed Sloane Stephens defeated Timea Babos of Hungary, 6-3, 6-1, and Amanda Anisimova stormed past No. 24 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 6-0, 6-2, in just 54 minutes on Court 8. Danielle Collins prevailed in a battle of two young Americans, edging countrywoman Sachia Vickery, 6-3, 7-5.
Stephens will play No. 31 seed Petra Martic of Croatia in the third round and, with fellow seeds Anett Kontaveit and Kiki Bertens both out, would not then play another seed until potentially facing world No. 2 Angelique Kerber or No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals.
Garcia will face Collins in the Round of 32 for the right to possibly face reigning champion Kerber, while Anisimova’s reward for her upset of Tsurenko is a third-round battle against No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka on Friday.
Also on Day 3, McDonald lost to No. 6 seed Marin Cilic, 7-5, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4; Denis Kudla pushed No. 18 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina all the way in a three-hour, 50-minute defeat on Court 13, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-7, 6-4; and big-serving Opelka fell in another marathon thriller to Thomas Fabbiano of Italy, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6.
Doubles play also got underway on Wednesday, with No. 4 seeds Mike and Bob Bryan among the U.S. winners in first-round action. Playing their first major together in a year, the twins defeated Aussie wild cards Alex Bolt and Marc Polmans. Another all-American duo also booked their place in the second round of the men’s doubles competition, with Sam Querrey and Ryan Harrison outlasting the 16th-seeded Dutch duo of Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop.