Saturday, September 5, 2020

Tiafoe Reaches Round of 16 at US Open with Dominating Win; Wolf Falls to Medvedev in Three Sets

©Colette Lewis 2020--

Frances Tiafoe and JJ Wolf, both born in 1998, had arrived at their US Open third round matches by different paths and facing dissimilar prospects. Tiafoe had needed five sets to overcome John Millman on Thursday, but faced unseeded Marton Fucsovics of Hungary third round action Saturday. Wolf had cruised to a straight-sets victory over Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, but was up against No. 3 seed and 2019 finalist Daniil Medvedev of Russia. Tiafoe came up with some of the best tennis of his career to beat Fucsovics 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 on Armstrong, while Wolf found out why Medvedev has, in the past 18 months, moved into the conversation as one of the best players in the world, beating Wolf 63, 63, 62 on Ashe.

Tiafoe looked focused and confident to start the match and earned an early break in the first, while not facing a break point himself, and closing out the set with a second break, on a Fucsovics double fault. Fucsovics, who had beaten Tiafoe in both their previous meetings on the ATP tour, including a three-set win on hard courts in Doha this year, was probably expecting Tiafoe's level to drop at some point. But another early break in the second set was enough for Tiafoe to take a two-set lead, with Tiafoe again not facing a break point. In the third set, Tiafoe again went up an early break, but not before he had faced his first break point in the second game, which he saved, and then went on to break Fucsovics at love. Tiafoe was up 4-1 and serving before Fucsovics finally broke through on his sixth break point chance, but that glimmer of hope for Fucsovics didn't last, with Tiafoe breaking him for the third time in the set, and holding in the next game to seal the win.

In his post-match Zoom press conference, Tiafoe admitted that it was at the top of any list of his best matches.

"It was definitely one of my best performances start to finish," Tiafoe said. "It was just scary. Yeah, I wasn't making unforced errors, playing very aggressive, playing smart, wasn't trying to be too fancy and I just went out and got it done today. Very professional, very businesslike and those are the kind of performances I'm looking forward to in the future."

Fucsovics had a similar view of Tiafoe's performance.

"First of all, [he was] serving big, serving very well," said the 28-year-old. "Mixing it up and serving a lot of wide serves to my forehand. He was hitting good topspin on his forehand. He didn't give any easy mistakes. We played twice already, and I beat him in both matches, he gave me easy mistakes, but this time he was very solid, very consistent."

That consistency was missing in Wolf's match, at least from the former Ohio State All-American. Wolf hit nearly as many winners as Medvedev, with 29 to the Russian's 33, but the unforced error count told the difference, with Wolf making 41 to 10 for Medvedev.

"He felt like a backboard back there," said Wolf, who was competing in his first slam after playing his first ATP level match last week at the Western & Southern Open. "He hits his spots on his serve, and I didn't serve real well today, but I have a feeling he makes people play like that. He's probably the best player I've ever played at handling my pace and that probably forced me to go for a little bit too much. I just need a couple more matches like this, just take it for what it is and try to keep improving. Honestly, it was really fun for me. Definitely got some things to work on, but it was a fun experience."

Wolf, who earned $163,000 for his two wins in the event, doubling his career-prize money, joked that his success this week "means I can pay my rent; that's always a good thing. I haven't really thought about the money yet, but being on tour for such a short period of time, yeah, it definitely helped those numbers a little bit."

Wolf is planning to travel to Paris for the French Open qualifying, which starts on September 21st. 

"I'll have to look for some probably green clay in Ohio to practice on," Wolf said. "I don't think I'll have time to get to Florida (where the USTA has red clay courts available at its National Campus) to practice on the red clay. But I'll just keep working out, get back in the gym; I'm real excited for that; I definitely miss getting my pumps in when I'm at tournaments."

Next up for Tiafoe is Medvedev, and Tiafoe knows he'll have to find a similar level to the one he displayed today.

"I'm going to have stay solid, I'm going to have to play smart," Tiafoe said. "I can't give him too many unforced errors. I've got to stay solid, wait for my right ball and then go crazy. Play percentages. Yeah, he's going to play funky, return from far back, put that extra ball back in play. It doesn't look good, but he gets it in. He's tough, he's a tough out and he's confident right now. He's playing the best tennis of his life, but again, when I'm playing the way I'm playing right now, I have a chance with anybody in the world. I've felt that way for years and now I'm finally starting to put it together again. If I can do that come Monday, it's going to be a good one."

The controversy regarding those who were exposed to Benoit Paire, who tested positive for the Covid-19 virus prior to the start of the tournament, continued on Saturday. There was a long delay yesterday, when New York's Nassau county notified players, including Adrian Mannarino, who was scheduled to take on Alexander Zverev, that they could not leave their hotel rooms for the 14-day quarantine period. Of course they already had, and Mannarino was on site, not in his hotel room, so after a nearly three-hour delay, he was allowed to take the court. He lost to Zverev, eliminating any future problems for him, but Kristina Mladenovic, who was the top seed in women's doubles, was withdrawn from the event today. That allowed Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Alison Riske to move into the quarterfinals. For more on all this week's drama around the New York Covid-19 protocols, see this article by Stephanie Myles.

Also advancing to the quarterfinals in doubles is 2016 NCAA singles finalist Hayley Carter(North Carolina), with partner Luisa Stefani(Pepperdine) of Brazil. Carter and Stefani defeated No. 6 seeds Ena Shibahara(UCLA) and Shuko Aoyama of Japan 6-4, 0-6, 6-4. 

Saturday’s third round matches featuring US women:

Maria Sakkari[15](GRE) d. Amanda Anisimova[22] 63, 61 

Elise Mertens[16](BEL) d. Caty McNally 75, 61 

Serena Williams[3] d. Sloane Stephens[26] 26, 62, 62

Alize Cornet(FRA) d. Madison Keys[7] 76(4), 3-2, ret. 

Sofia Kenin[2] d. Ons Jabeur[27](TUN) 76(4), 63

Saturday's third round matches featuring US men:

Daniil Medvedev[3](RUS) d. JJ Wolf[WC] 63, 63, 62 

Frances Tiafoe d. Marton Fucsovics(HUN) 62, 63, 62

Complete results from Saturday are here.

Sunday’s fourth round matches featuring US women:

Jennifer Brady[28] v Angelique Kerber[17](GER)

Shelby Rogers v Petra Kvitova[6](CZE)

Sunday's quarterfinal doubles match featuring US men:

Christopher Eubanks and Mackenzie McDonald[WC] v Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury[3](GBR)

Sunday's complete schedule is here.