God Bless America: A July Fourth Message from Frances Tiafoe

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Bill Simons

Wimbledon

AND NOW THEY ARE GONE: Rafa Nadal never came to London. The women’s favorite, Aryna Sabalenka, withdrew with a bum shoulder. Marketa Vondrousova became the first defending champ to crash out in the first round since Steffi Graf in 1994. Then Britain’s hero, Sir Andrew Murray, the best player this land has ever produced, pulled out. There was sorrow. And the popular four-time Slam champ Naomi Osaka fell today.

A LIGHTNING ROUND WITH TIAFOE: Inside Tennis asked Frances a series of quick questions. Here are his responses.

TOUGHEST STROKE YOU’VE FACED: Juan Martin del Potro’s forehand

FAVORITE TOURNAMENT: US Open

PLAYER YOU WOULD MOST LIKE TO HAVE WITH YOU IN THE TRENCHES: Carlos Alcaraz

STROKE OR MINDSET YOU WOULD LIKE TO GET FROM SOME OTHER PLAYER: Nick Kyrgios’ serve

BEST PART OF BEING A TENNIS PLAYER: Traveling the world

WORST PART OF BEING A TENNIS PLAYER: Probably traveling the world

IF YOU COULD MEET ONE PERSON OUTSIDE OF TENNIS YOU HAVEN’T MET YET: Probably MJ (Michael Jordan)

YOUR SWEETEST MOMENT IN TENNIS: Beating Nadal

THE THREE PEOPLE YOU WOULD WANT TO INVITE TO A DINNER PARTY: Jay-Z, Beyonce, Viola Davis

BEST PART OF THE JUNIOR CHAMPIONS TENNIS CENTER: Frances Tiafoe came out of there

A JULY FOURTH MESSAGE: After his first round match Frances Tiafoe wrote the following on the lens of the courtside TV: “At times like these it helps to recall there have always been times like these.” He later said that the quote was about him personally. But a reporter thought it was about the challenging times in America now. Tiafoe added, “I think the debate kind of says it all. But not everything is peaches and cream all the time. America is America. It’s the best country in the world by far no matter what. There’s going to be some ups and downs. There have been a lot of things going on for a long time. There’s a huge divide but ultimately without me being born in America I wouldn’t be who I am today…because it gives everyone so much opportunity, whatever side of the fence you sit on. So, God Bless America.”

BRITISH BLISS: Thursday may be the anniversary of when Britain lost its pesky colony, America, but there’s a silver lining. Scottish braveheart Andy Murray announced he’ll be playing mixed doubles with the darling of English tennis, Emma Raducanu. Andy, who played mixed doubles with Serena at Wimbledon and with Laura Robson at the Olympics, commented, “I’m pumped. It will be brilliant.” Thursday afternoon he’ll play his first doubles match with his brother Jamie.

QUESTION OF THE TOURNEY: As a kid, Novak Djokovic dreamed of winning Wimbledon. Now he’s the GOAT and he’s won the title seven times. Last year he collected the Australian, the French and the US Open titles. But so far this season he hasn’t reached a single final. And after losing at Roland Garros, the 37-year-old had surgery for a torn meniscus. More recently, he’s been practicing hard, and he looked good as he waltzed through his first-round match. 

Playing with a gray sleeve around his knee, he moved well and survived a severe slide. But can he survive the seven-match journey that is Wimbledon, and again win the title? Thursday he’ll play the British wildcard Jake Fearnley, who used to play for TCU.  

OUR FAVORITE MURRAY QUOTE: Yes, Murray once called himself “an absolute turnip.” But our favorite Andy Murray comment came after his loss of the 2012 Wimbledon final. He began his remarks by saying, “I’m going to try this, but it’s not going to be easy.” His words apply to his entire career.

SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN CHAMPIONSHIPS: There have been seven different Wimbledon women’s champions over the past seven tourneys: Marketa Vondrousova, Elena Rybakina, Ash Barty, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Garbine Muguruza and Serena Williams. What a stat!  

A FINE FELLOW – A BROKEN MAN? Off court, Russian Andrey Rublev is a smiling, fun-loving guy. On-court not so much. He again lost it as he went down to the Argentinian clay courter Francisco Comesana, who was playing just his second main draw match and his first-ever grass court match. At one point the Russian smashed his knee violently seven times with his racket.

Rublev, who has reached the quarters of ten Slams, has had the strangest of years. 

Since March, he’s lost early in every tournament he’s played, with the extraordinary exception of the Madrid Open, which he won despite feeling lousy. At times he could barely breathe.   

While a truly appealing guy in many ways, Andrey is clearly dealing with demons. Tuesday his non-stop, semi-volcanic agitation was on display for hours. It brought to mind a wretched incident when he incessantly berated a linesman earlier this year. John McEnroe, who’s obviously an expert on such matters, observed, “There was so much angst and torture. He was putting so much pressure on himself.”

When we happened to spot Andrey in a hoodie in a small cafe by the Wimbledon underground, he looked like a broken man.

SEND IN THE CLOWNS: A year ago Frances Tiafoe was rocking the kasbah. He won in Houston and Stuttgart, and cracked the top ten. But, of late, he’s been in a funk. He suffered some understandable losses to highly ranked players like Tsitsipas, Shelton and Tommy Paul. But he has also inexplicably fallen to players like No. 91 Pedro Cachin and No. 183 Jerry Shang. He’s lost early in one tourney after another. 

Coming into Wimbledon, Frances had a 13-14 record for the season and was ranked No. 30. In his first match he came from two sets down to beat Italian Matteo Arnaldi. Then he shot from the hip, saying that he’d been “losing to clowns. I hate to say it but…it’s brutal. Highs and lows. Think about where I’m at …This week last year I was 10 in the world and now I’m barely seeded. I took the game for granted and got a little too comfortable. You stop having fun with it and you find yourself in a weird position. Then you kind of forget what you were doing to win.

“[But] there is always light at the end of the tunnel, [so it’s] whether you either try and find it with small wins or continue to feel sorry for yourself and continue to play victim. That’s where it just gets darker and darker and darker.” Not surprisingly, his “clowns” comment did not go down well on social media.

Tiafoe, who dismissed Croatian Borna Coric on Wednesday will next face the defending champion Carlos Alcaraz. Frances said, “Carlos is an unbelievable talent. He could retire today and go right to the Hall of Fame.

“I haven’t had a popcorn match for so long… It will make people smile and feel good. I’m super excited.”      

He recalled that when he lost his 2023 US Open semis marathon battle with Carlos, he was on fumes. He said about his upcoming match, “I’m going to have to take shots, I‘m going to have to take risks.” 

BOLD BRANDON BATTLES ON: After dispatching No. 18 Sebastian Baez of Argentina in straight sets, San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima took out Aussie Jordan Thompson, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. He next faces No. 16 Ugo Humbert of France, to try and equal his best Grand Slam result, when he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2022. 

NAVARRO BOUND FOR NIRVANA? Rising American Emma Navarro dismantled the four-time Slam winner Naomi Osaka 6-4, 6-1. The former NCAA champ will next play Russian Diana Shnaider, who beat Sloane Stephens 6-1, 6-1.

AMERICA WATCH: Mackie McDonald fell in five sets to Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori. UCLA product Marcos Giron beat Brit Henry Searle in four sets. He meets No. 4 Alexander Zverev next. 

Tommy Paul beat Finn Otto Virtanen in five sets. Taylor Fritz crushed Aussie Chris O’Connell. Ben Shelton won in five sets against Italian Mattia Bellucci, and Seb Korda lost in five sets.

Coco Gauff dropped just three games en route to the third round. Madison Keys, Katie Volynets, Jessica Pegula, Danielle Collins and Bernardo Perra all won. American qualifier Robin Montgomery beat Aussie Olivia Gadecki to score her first Slam win.

LOVE THE ONE YOU’RE WITH: After Andy Murray’s withdrawal, young Brit Jack Draper was chosen to take his place on Centre Court. After winning, he told the crowd, “I know you wanted Andy, but you’re stuck with me!”

A MATCH POINT FOR THE AGES: Lloyd Harris’s triumphant match point against Aliso Viejos’ Alex Michelsen featured explosive corner-to-corner sprints, flash recoveries, clever dropshots, and a lunging stab volley and Harris’s dramatic fall to the grass. It’s all worth a journey to YouTube.

DJOKOVIC HONORS MURRAY: Novak shared his thoughts on Murray’s withdrawal from singles: “It’s very sad news…Hopefully he can get another shot at next year’s Wimbledon with singles. Knowing him, he’s going to try. [He has] just incredible resilience…Legend of the game. No. 1 in the world. [His] going to play in the challenger circuit to build his rankings on clay, his least favorite surface, says a lot about his character.”

Novak continued, saying that Murray is “just a huge inspiration to all the players. Doesn’t mind getting out on the court for hours every day. Incredibly professional. His approach is something to study.

“His will to push and see how far he can go, even with an artificial hip, is something that serves as a great example to a lot of the athletes, younger ones, that start to complain…He has left a great mark…But something tells me that he’ll keep going.”

SUCH AN OPEN WIMBLEDON: Alexander Zverev suggested that this is the most open Wimbledon we’ve had in terms of potential winners. Multiple men have a very decent chance of winning. “I don’t think it has been like this for maybe 20 years,” Sascha observed.

Also reporting: Lucia Hoffman

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