Thursday, September 3, 2020

Wolf, Tiafoe Reach US Open Third Round in Contrasting Fashion; Five More US Women Move On

©Colette Lewis 2020--

JJ Wolf's win looked almost routine, even though he was playing in just his second match ever at the US Open. Frances Tiafoe, who contracted the Covid-19 virus earlier this summer, was probably not a favorite heading into a fifth set Thursday evening, but both are now in the third round of the US Open.

Wild card Wolf, who took out No. 29 seed Guido Pella of Argentina in the first round on Tuesday, played even better against Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, earning a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 win in less than two hours. Wolf was in control from the beginning, and won an impressive 26 of 32 in points at the net.  I had hoped to ask him if that was his strategy against the 27-year-old, who was probably less comfortable on the faster US Open courts than Wolf, but I didn't get the announcement of the press conference until it was well underway, and my submitted question wasn't asked. I will note that Wolf came in 20 times against Pella, so I imagine it's something he's been working on adding to his game, especially since he played so many indoor matches when he was at Ohio State. But as well as he was playing today, with Carballes Baena really having nothing to threaten him with and having a 50-14 advantage in winners, that may have been moot today.

Wolf, who will earn $163,000 by reaching the third round, more than his career earnings of $159,000, had a brief hiccup serving for the match at 5-2, but he gave credit to Carballes Baena for that temporary roadblock.

"I think he played a great return game at 5-2," Wolf said. "I think he had two or three winners. I just brushed it off, said, Next game. I tried to put all my energy into each point, ended up getting the break."

Wolf said the lack of fans at the Open is not that unusual for him, with the crowds at the Challengers often minimal, but he is hoping to have an opportunity to have the US Open experience in New York next year.

"The US Open crowds in the past, even when I played juniors, have been unbelievable," said the 21-year-old from Cincinnati. "We're definitely missing out on that. I'm honestly just happy to be playing some good tennis. Hopefully next year I can experience the real deal. Yeah, it's definitely a different feel here. Especially with all the awesome stadiums the US Open has, New Yorkers and everyone from around the world usually fill up, and make it rowdy and fun for the players. It's still awesome being here. I wish there could be big crowds rooting me on. As I said, I'm just happy to be here and playing some tennis."

Tiafoe, who is just 11 months older than Wolf, but vastly more experienced at the Open, needed just under four hours to get past nemesis John Millman of Australia 7-6(6), 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3. Millman, who had beaten Tiafoe in their previous two ATP main draw matches, both of which went the distance, was down a break in the fourth set, only to break back, but Tiafoe managed to keep from getting discouraged by that development.

"I felt fine physically," said Tiafoe, who has had his share of heart-breaking five-set losses at the US Open. "I'm still on serve, I'm returning well, so I thought if I could sneak out a break, so I was, stay here mentally, don't go anywhere, stay tapped in. I know I can hit a couple of screamers at any moment, I did, and ended up putting a good game together, and then a great game to serve it out."

Tiafoe got the break he needed in the seventh game and with Millman serving to stay in the match at 3-5, Tiafoe earned two match points when the 31-year-old Australian double faulted. Putting the pressure on, Tiafoe came in, and when Millman's lob landed long, he was into the third round of the US Open for the first time.

Tiafoe said he had a mild case of the virus, but wasn't ready to return to top form until the middle of last month.

"I'm cool," Tiafoe said. "Obviously some of the players had it pretty bad, physically when they were coming back, the were struggling a lot. My virus was pretty mild, thankfully. My brother (twin Franklin) had no symptoms at all and I just had diarrhea and headaches for three days. During those three days I would make conversation and fall asleep randomly, getting real tired out of nowhere, but when I got back, started practicing, got my EKG test done, doctors, everybody told me I was cool. They said my heart is normal, where it should be, so I feel perfectly fine and was ready to go. I had three-and-a-half weeks, close to a month, to get ready for this, so it was kind of better that Citi Open was canceled. I would have played, but I don't think I would have been in tiptop shape for it. But yeah, I'm here and I'm in the third round, feeling good."

It was an excellent day for the American women, with all five seeded players advancing. In the only all-US match, 16-year-old wild card Katrina Scott gave No. 22 Amanda Anisimova a real challenge, she held her nerve in a tight second set and battled back for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Anisimova admitted that she knew little about Scott, and was in the unique situation of having to play an younger opponent, as she had in the 2017 US Open girls final, where she beat 13-year-old Coco Gauff. 

"Yeah, it was weird because I've actually never played someone who is younger than me in a Grand Slam," the 19-year-old Floridian said. "It was a first for me. I was pretty nervous. But it was just reminding me a lot of that final with Coco. I was nervous for that, too. She was a lot younger than me. It was very similar to that match."

As for Scott's game, Anisimova offered only praise.

"I'm very surprised with how she was playing," Anisimova said. "I'm sure that she has a really bright future ahead of her. She was serving so big, just playing very well. Yeah, I was very impressed with her game."

Rain began to fall Thursday evening, so matches on the outside courts were suspended, to be completed Friday. Those included the second round matches of Caty McNally and Sachia Vickery.

Thursday's complete results are here.

Thursday’s second round results of US men (2-1):

Frances Tiafoe d. John Millman(AUS) 76(6), 36, 16, 63, 63

JJ Wolf[WC] d. Roberto Carballes Baena(ESP) 62, 64, 63

Salvatore Caruso(ITA) d. Ernesto Escobedo[Alternate] 36, 64, 63, 64

Thursday’s second round results of US women:

Maria Sakkari[15](GRE) d. Bernarda Pera 26 63 62

Amanda Anisimova[22] d. Katrina Scott[WC] 46, 64, 61

Sofia Kenin[2] d. Leylah Fernandez(CAN) 64, 63

Serena Williams[3] d. Margarita Gasparyan(RUS) 62, 64

Sloane Stephens[26] d. Olga Govortsova(BLR) 62, 62

Madison Keys[7] d. Aliona Bolsova(ESP) 62, 61

Caty McNally v Ekaterina Alexandrova[21](RUS) 46, 63 (suspended, rain)

Sachia Vickery[WC] v Iga Swiatek(POL) 76(5) (suspended, rain)

Friday's third round matches featuring US men:

Taylor Fritz[19] v Denis Shapovalov[12](CAN)

Friday’s third round matches featuring US women (5)

Jessica Pegula v Petra Kvitova[6](CZE)

Ann Li v Angelique Kerber[17](GER)

Shelby Rogers v Madison Brengle

Jennifer Brady[28] v Caroline Garcia(FRA)

Caty McNally v Ekaterina Alexandrova[21](RUS) 46, 63 (suspended, rain)

Sachia Vickery[WC] v Iga Swiatek(POL) 76(5) (suspended, rain)

Complete schedule for Friday is here.