MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 17:  Frances Tiafoe of the USA plays a backhand during his first round match against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan on day two of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 17, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Frances Tiafoe among young Americans coming of age in Australian Open

Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) More than 13 years after Andy Roddick won the 2003 U.S. Open, the last time an American man triumphed at a Grand Slam, the future of U.S. men’s tennis appears bright.

The next generation of young players, all aged between 18 and 20, is starting to emerge and showing enough promise at this year’s Australian Open to suggest they may be on the cusp of a breakthrough.

Seven made the main draw at Melbourne Park and three were still in contention after the first round.

Frances Tiafoe, who turns 19 on Friday, defeated Mikhail Kukushkin 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday, while 20-year-old Ernesto Escobedo beat Daniil Medvedev 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1. They joined 20-year-old Noah Rubin, who won his opener a day earlier to set up a second-round match against Roger Federer.

The others failed to advance, but not before serving notice to the tour’s old guard.

Reilly Opelka, 19, lost a tight five-setter to 11th-seeded David Goffin, while Jared Donaldson, 20, lost to Brazil’s Rogerio Dutra Silva after leading two sets to none. Taylor Fritz and Michael Mmoh, both 19, each put up good fights in defeats to veterans Gilles Muller and Gilles Simon, respectively.

“We’re all really supportive of each other and happy to see all of us doing so well,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we can keep going and not stop now.”

Much has been expected of Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, since he won the Orange Bowl at age 15, the youngest champion in the prestigious 18-and-under tournament’s history.

Tiafoe just missed out on a career-defining win at last year’s U.S. Open, where as a wild card, he led the long-time top-ranked U.S. player, John Isner, by two sets to none before the match slipped away. It was a heartbreaking loss, but one Tiafoe learned from.

“I was like, the next opportunity I’m definitely going to take it,” he said after his first-round win on Tuesday, flashing a wide grin. “Now, getting through relatively comfortable today means a lot. … I really feel like I belong now.”

He next plays another 19-year-old, his close friend, Alexander Zverev of Germany.

Both Opelka and Donaldson, meanwhile, got their own tastes of Grand Slam agony in Melbourne.

Opelka, a 6-foot-11 (2.11 meter) former Wimbledon junior champion with a booming serve and whip-like forehand, had two break points to go up 4-2 in the fifth set against Goffin, but couldn’t convert either and ultimately lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Opelka had never before played a five-set match and was making his debut in the singles main draw of a Grand Slam. Yet he showed grit – and no hint of nerves – deep into the fifth set against a seasoned pro like Goffin, even as he started to cramp and struggled to move.

“I’ve played some guys in the top 10 before so I wasn’t uncomfortable,” he said. “With the way I play, hopefully it really shouldn’t matter who’s on the other side of the net.”

Donaldson’s loss was less expected. The Rhode Island native made a stunning run to the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, upsetting the 12th-seeded Goffin and Viktor Troicki, a former top-20 player.

And he was well on his way to a commanding win over Dutra Silva before the Brazilian stormed back for a 3-6, 0-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“Losses like this really define your character,” he said. “So I can be upset and sulk about it or I can get back on the practice court and keep working hard and get better so matches like that don’t happen again.”

Wozniacki into Dubai final, waiting for Kerber or Svitolina

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 20:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark plays backhand during her match against Daria Kasatkina of Russia on day two of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 20, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Caroline Wozniacki reached her second final in two weeks by beating Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 6-4 at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Friday.

Wozniacki was a finalist at Doha last weekend, when she lost to Karolina Pliskova.

“Pretty good couple of weeks for me,” Wozniacki said. “Very happy how I have managed to get through these two weeks, because it’s been very tiring mentally.

“The fact that I have just been staying in there and keep grinding, I’m kind of proud of that.”

This will be Wozniacki’s 44th career singles final. She’s won 25 titles.

The last time she reached back-to-back finals was at the 2014 U.S. Open and Tokyo tournaments. She didn’t win either of them.

Wozniacki won the Dubai title in 2011. She’s reached at least the semifinals in six of the seven years she’s played in Dubai, compiling a 22-5 record.

“I love playing here,” she said. “To have a finals here again, it just feels good.”

Wozniacki posted an impressive 70 percent first-serve percentage against Sevastova. She lost her serve on the one break point she faced, in the eighth game of the second set, but otherwise was impenetrable on her serve.

Wozniacki plays top-seeded Angelique Kerber or seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina in the final on Saturday. She has a losing record against both potential finalists: Kerber leads 8-5, while Svitolina leads 1-0.

The semifinal finish will deliver Sevastova her first top-25 ranking.

Wozniacki back in Dubai Champs semifinals

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - FEBRUARY 23:  Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark plays a backhand during her quarter final match against Catherine Bellis of United States on day five of the WTA Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship at the Dubai Tennis Stadium on February 23, 2017 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Caroline Wozniacki reached her sixth career Dubai Tennis Championships semifinals when she defeated Catherine “Cici” Bellis 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday.

Wozniacki, who won the Dubai title in 2011, reached the Doha final last week. She’s played nine matches in the last nine days.

Bellis, the youngest player in the draw at 17, scored the biggest win of her six-month-old pro career on Wednesday when she upset her first top-10 player, sixth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

The American started the match confidently, jumping out to 3-1, but couldn’t sustain the momentum.

“It was really fun for me to see what the highest level is (like),” Bellis said.

In a fight strictly from the baseline, Wozniacki won the next nine games to lead 6-3, 4-0.

“I stepped into the court a little bit after being down 3-1 and just tried to keep the pressure on her, make her think a little bit, not give her too many free points,” said Wozniacki, who had her upper left leg wrapped.

She will play Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the semifinals. The 35th-ranked Sevastova reached her first semifinal of the season via a 6-4, 7-5 win over Wang Qiang of China.

“She’s a player that mixes the pace up quite a bit,” Wozniacki said of Sevastova. “She’s definitely going to try and get me out of my own rhythm.”

Seventh-seeded Elina Svitolina of the Ukraine improved her career record against Lauren Davis to 4-0 after defeating the American 6-0, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.

Svitolina, a semifinalist last year, won her fifth career title at the Taiwan Open this month. She’ll play either top-seeded Angelique Kerber or Ana Konjuh of Croatia.