QUEENS, NY–Maryland-born Frances Tiafoe challenged the mighty Roger Federer, keeping pressure for five sets on the five-time champion in their first-round U.S. Open match at New York’s Flushing Meadows.
There was a fan on the edge of every seat in the 23-thousand Arthur Ashe Stadium as the match’s momentum shifted several times until the young American finally netted a backhand on Federer’s third match point. Tiafoe had spoiled the Swiss tennis genius’s chance to serve out the match at 5-3, but then ran up against Federer’s determination to spoil a final comeback.
Federer stepped up his own defense, disallowing a service hold that would have extended the match. Each player had lost and retaken the initiative several times, and the man of Basel knew he must snuff out one last surge from College Park’s young ace or risk exhaustion.
Tiafoe showed astonishing nerve and grit in coming back from one set to two to even the score in the fourth set. Federer earned an early break in the decider and raced ahead, but when Tiafoe broke back everyone at Ashe knew it was still either man’s match to win.
Or lose – for although there were breathtaking shots from both sides, missed ones at key moments will go into the history books as great if-only’s. This was particularly true of Tiafoe’s game, for he repeatedly made brave – not reckless – shots to the baseline as he tried to extend the points and prevent Federer from quickly setting up winners or moving in for killer volleys.
Had a few Tiafoe shots that did not quite make it, made it – but that is to say what a great match this was; and it was with the utmost sincerity that a tired Federer congratulated his opponent at midnight as the crowd roared support for both men.
It was the best first-round match of the tournament and more than made up for a rainy Tuesday that forced most matches to be interrupted or canceled. A generally favorable forecast for the fortnight, however, suggests the draw will proceed with the joyous order that characterizes the U.S. Open. The legendary Louis Armstrong Stadium moved to a temporary eight thousand-seat site near the LIRR tracks while it is being rebuilt (with roof) for next year, and with expanded walkways and ever-improving fan services, the Billie Jean King Center continues to earn its reputation as one of the gems of Queens and indeed the whole city.
Venus Williams got through her first round match without undue trouble, as did Madison Keys and Sloan Stephens, underscoring the strength across two generations of the American women’s field.
Young Americans can take inspiration from Tiafoe’s assault upon the older generation’s greatest monument (Federer is playing his 17th U.S. Open), as well as from his contemporary Jared Donaldson. The Rhode Islander, two years older than Tiafoe, successfully commenced his own tournament with a powerful win over Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili that ended in a thrilling fourth-set tiebreak during which Donaldson cramped up but managed to adapt and out-maneuver his hard-hitting opponent.