What Makes Tiafoe Go?

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

New York

WHAT MAKES TIAFOE GO? Vesa Ponkka, the president of Maryland’s JTCC, spoke a while ago to the Washington Post about the 16-year-old Frances Tiafoe’s passion for tennis. “He is hungry. He has nothing else. And his love of the game is so deep and so pure. Some players love winning. Some players love money. Some players love traveling. He loves everything about this game. He loves even the smell of the new balls. He loves how the ball sounds on the strings. He loves these things that actually are much more important than money or that stuff. He plays the game for the right reasons. And none of us taught him that. It’s just that tennis was his best friend, and he took care of his best friend.”

NICK KNOCKED OUT: When it comes to sheer brilliance and inspired shotmaking, Nick Kyrgios may be, with Roger Federer, the ATP’s best. He’s an athletic genius. Explosive power, exquisite touch, breathless creativity – Nick’s repertoire astounds. Often he stole the show in Australia, at Wimbledon and when Serena wasn’t claiming all the US Open oxygen. At Wimbledon he proved he could reach the very end of a Slam and in the fourth round of the Open he dismissed the 6′ 6″ Russian, Daniil Medvedev.

But tonight, in his quarterfinal against another 6′ 6″ Russian, Karen Khachanov, he came out flat, struggled with a sore knee, lost the first set and was continually battling from behind against his unheralded foe.

Nick thrilled fans with a brilliant fourth-set tiebreak to force a fifth set, but then played an indifferent game to start the deciding set. The critical lapse at crunch time sealed his fate as he went down at 12:58 AM 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3, to his resolute foe.

Some of his Nick’s tactics were suspect. His too frequent serve and volley charges often led to grief and, most importantly, he was only 2 for 9 on break points. Karen began as a 150-1 long shot. His triumph was his second straight five-set win. Friday the No. 31 player in the world will face, in his first ever Slam semi, No. 5 seed Casper Ruud.

After his win, Karen told the crowd, “I did it, I did it.” They offered cheers and he quipped sarcastically, “Now you are going to give me some love.” Russian Medvedev won the Open last year and reached the final the year before. With Andrey Rublev still rolling, this year’s final could be an all-Russian affair.

Nick spoke of the big-hitting Khachanov, saying, “He’s a warrior…[and] probably the best server I played this tournament…I’m just devastated…I’ve just failed at this event…I honestly feel like shit…I don’t even really care about any other tournament…Every other tournament during the year [except for the Slams] is a waste of time…I feel like I’ve let so many people down…It’s heartbreaking. Not just for me, but for everyone that I know that wants me to win.”

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’: Serena and Venus have left town. Roger Federer now doesn’t even have a ranking. Novak again chose not to get a shot. Tiafoe took down Rafa, who didn’t get past a quarterfinal Slam for the first time in 18 years, and Andy Murray played gallantly with his metal hip before losing in the third round. And now, there’ll be a first-time US Open champion in both the men’s and women’s tournament. And Iga Swiatek is the only woman or man remaining in the field who’s won a Slam major.

SWEET CAROLINE: France’s Caroline Garcia was ranked No. 4 in 2018. But she fell, then drew little attention. She drifted in the rankings between 50 and 100. Then she won this  year’s French Open doubles and proceeded to win three tourneys on three different surfaces, including Cincy, where she went from the qualies to the winner’s circle.

The hottest player in the women’s game, Garcia continued her streak tonight, where she dispatched America’s last hope in the women’s draw, Coco Gauff, 6-3, 6-4. The 28-year-old, who will now break into the top ten, came out fast, unleashed her deep, powerful forehand, stepped in on her strokes, charged the net, attacked Gauff’s often vulnerable serve, sprinted out to a 4-0 first set and didn’t look back. 

Pam Shriver observed, “There’s nothing Coco can do.” Caroline has now won 31 of her last 35 matches and has six wins in a row top over twenty foes. Ons Jabeur, the first African to make the US Open semis, will be Garcia’s next opponent. The Tunisian has a 2-0 head-to-head edge against Garcia.

DREAM FINAL? For only the second time in the last 18 years, not one of the Big 3 will play in the men’s final. But if 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz and 23-year-old Casper Ruud meet on Sunday, we could have a final between two players who are both vying for the No. 1 ranking.

ACTS OF KINDNESS AND LOVE – NOT HATE: In 1990, after Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon, Australia’s Margaret Court rained on her parade, saying, “I’d like someone at the top who the younger players can look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality…[Martina’s] life has just gone astray.”

The other day, after Serena retired, having failed to break Margaret’s mark of 24 Slam wins, Court offered a rare interview. She complained to the Sydney Herald: “I admired her as a player. But I don’t think she admires me.” Court also complained that when she went to Wimbledon that no one spoke to her. Some said this was for good reason: Court has taken many controversial stances over the years. She was supportive of apartheid in South Africa. She attacked Billie Jean King and the vastly popular Aussie Casey Dellacqua, and said gay rights advocates were like nazis and communists who were from the devil and were “trying to brainwash and snare our children.”

One Aussie broadcaster asked, “Do you understand how hurtful it is for LGBTQI Australians when someone of your stature actively promotes the idea that they are not equal to you, that you’re better than them?”

Mary Carillo said Court was “shouting at the ocean; surely the seas will drown out her incessant cries of perversion.” She noted that Court claims to be a Christian and then asked, “But what kind? And where is the kindness?” In reference to Court, Billie Jean King said a while ago, “I’m big on acts of kindness and love – not hate.”

FOND FAREWELLS: Serena Williams wasn’t the only player to compete in her final Slam this year. Christina McHale, who once was No. 24, will be stepping away, as will German Andrea Petkovic. Frenchman Gilles Simon will be retiring at the end of the season. Thousand Oaks, California, resident Sam Querrey, who won three of the last four Los Angeles Opens and reached the Wimbledon semifinals also hung up his racket. Querrey, along with Mal Washington, who reached No. 11 in the world, may be the best American player to have never cracked the top ten. Querrey’s win over No. 1 Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon in 2016 turned out to be one of the biggest wins for American men’s tennis over the past ten years. His quirky coach Craig Boynton joked about the result, explaining that Sam won because “sometimes a blind squirrel finds a nut.”

Photo by Getty Images

STOP YELLING! Not having human linespersons call the lines is a curious development that draws assorted views. But one unintentional consequence is that we hear a loud male voice bark out, “Fault!” again and again, match after match, and after a while it gets a bit old. One fan in section 131 shouted out, “stop yelling!”

THE EURO OPEN: European men have won 18 of the last 19 US Opens and the last 50 Grand Slams.

A McENROE FIRST: After John McEnroe seemed confused by Nick Kyrgios going to the other side of the net to hit a ball that was shanked by Daniil Medvedev, he turned to his brother Pat and said, “Later tonight, you and I have to get out the rulebook.” Pat replied. “That will be a first.”

IS A LITTLE ADVERSITY GOOD FOR YOU? No. 1 seed and two-time French Open champion Iga Swiatek struggled mightily in the first set against German Julie Neimeier before she went on to win. But, no worries, the Pole also struggled early in her fourth-round match against China’s Qinwen Zheng before she went on to win the French Open in June. 

IT DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT: At the US Open they closed the roof (which changes the event from an outdoor to an indoor tournament) right in the middle of play. 

NEWSFLASH: YOU CAN’T WALK ON WATER: Despite briefly faltering in the third set, Casper Ruud easily beat Matteo Berrettini to reach the semis. He explained his dip, saying, “Sometimes you get over-excited and think and you can walk on water.”

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