Frances Tiafoe proved it | Deserter

FLUSHING, New York — At 2-1 in the first set of her US Open semifinal, Frances Tiafoe said she stared at Michelle Obama. She suspects that she made a return right after. “Yeah, she thinks I’m a bum, I can’t go back,” she joked, just after wrapping up the “craziest two weeks” of her life, weeks that dramatically raised her public profile and (if you dare) her ceiling as a tennis player. . This torrid race at the Open altered not only Mrs. Obama’s perception of Tiafoe: “she had seen her before, but [today’s] a little bit different circumstance, she sees me and she’s actually excited to see me,” he joked, but also possibly Tiafoe’s perception of Tiafoe. Earlier in this Open, she said he was happy that he wasn’t one of the designated big dogs in his age group, vying for the No. 1 ranking, getting the flashy court assignments and feeling all the pressure. Frances preferred to lay low and entertain: “I’m kind of Court 17, I get some cheeky victories,” as she put it. But after his throbbing five-set semi-final loss to Carlos Alcaraz on Friday night, Tiafoe was offered the rare loser’s microphone, and he used it to strike a very different tone: “I’m going to come back and win this Lo. sorry guys.

Total self-actualization doesn’t usually happen over the course of two weeks, but professional athletes are lucky that way. Tiafoe actually revealed in his post-match press conference that he had come to the Open intending to win it, and I understand every professional athlete has to think like that on some level to do their job, but from the outside, that view was exaggerated. . The World No. 26 had had a solid but unspectacular season. He hadn’t shown that he was capable of keeping up with the elite for so many games in a row. I’ve enjoyed it even when I wasn’t sure he would ever try that. Regardless of his results, I have religiously watched the 24-year-old, due in equal parts to his athletic tools, unconventional technique and personal magnetism. Throughout the first act of his career, he could only promise the following: mouthwatering highlights, the occasional attention-grabbing win, and several unfocused heartthrobs. Absent was the consistency to churn out victories without glamour. His friend, fellow American player Jessica Pegula, nailed the dynamic this week in the press. “I’m always a little bit on it: ‘Can you win a normal match and not be like this whole theatrical event?’ I always give him a shit,” she said.

The Tiafoe of this US Open combined business and pleasure. He got through his first three rounds flawlessly, knocking down everyone, including the diminutive baseline demon Diego Schwartzman, in straight sets and averaging about an hour per set. He had the emotions from him, but he also kept the energy from him, which had to have worked in his favor as he moved deeper into a spec than ever before. His surprise in the fourth round of Rafael Nadal was perhaps more of a mental test than a physical one. Although he was not the best Rafa, Rafa of any level is complete enough to demand an excruciating degree of focus and execution from any usurper. Midcourt forehands that would have been zanks three years ago were now sure winners. Even more impressive was Tiafoe’s clear straight-sets victory over Andrey Rublev, making it two years in a row that he eliminated the hard-hitting Russian, this year more directly than the last. Tiafoe’s dream career stopped at Alcaraz, but then many tennis players in the next two decades will discover that his dream career stops at Carlos Alcaraz. There’s no shame in that and, indeed, a lot of glory in reaching a fifth set as the 19-year-old updated my “best shots I’ve ever seen” list almost every night. These two are dynamic enough to set a frantic new standard for cat-and-mouse dots, and I hope they meet a dozen more times:

Although the results at this Open were amazing, the groundwork was laid some time ago, according to coach Wayne Ferreira, who said he drew on his own experience as a “relatively talented but lazy player” to coach an immensely gifted player. that he had some silly habits. It’s been fun and delightful to hear the details of Frances’s professionalization, some of which feel dangerously relatable for a professional athlete. The coach has previously spoken about banishing Tiafoe’s phone for training sessions and running her without music to increase her concentration so she can play these four-hour matches. He also said that he drastically reduced the snack quota and added some rigor to the routine. “She was very fond of sweets, chocolate and cookies. She ate at unusual hours. She missed breakfast so much. She didn’t really have a good set of times on how to eat before games, what to eat after games,” he told reporters this week. And as he also pointed out, Tiafoe’s brilliance required a more serious treatment of the one aspect of tennis that is entirely under his control: serving.

While he still occasionally struggles with consistency, Tiafoe recently unlocked the power, serving gas throughout the tournament topping out at 138 mph. Considering that earlier in his career he was content to use his serve as a simple starting point, this is a somewhat jarring and up-altering development. “I don’t think he ever had that in his head that he’s worth anything. He has always been one of those who slide the ball inside,” said Ferreira. “So we’re working really hard to get him to hit the serve as hard as he can.” In his match against Alcaraz, his first serve served him well on specific occasions, but also gave it up for full sets, which makes it all the more miraculous that it managed to hold out this long. Tiafoe has gotten a hair under 60 per cent of his first serves over the course of this season, and his coach said if they can push that number into the mid-60s, where many of the top players are, or into the 70s low. , a more rarefied threshold, would change Tiafoe’s trajectory entirely.

Perhaps as a testament to his serving skills, Tiafoe appeared and won eight tiebreaks during this fortnight, the longest perfect record in any US Open career, beating Pete Sampras’ 7-0 in 2000. That’s a fact of life, but it also makes me think. some sinister thoughts about a possible misunderstanding of Frances Tiafoe’s talent. What if, after writing six years of dedicated blog posts championing this son of immigrants as a distinctly charismatic break from the latest generation of American men’s tennis, I am now to watch him follow an inexorable fate and assimilate into that national identity: the big kick? tiebreaker king? Whatever, I’ll take it, and all sevens on your scoring lines to come. This guy rules.

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