Tiafoe beats Rublev; 1st U.S. man in U.S. Open semifinal in 16 years

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NEW YORK — Frances Tiafoe became the first American man to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since 2006 by beating Andrey Rublev 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4 behind the backing of a boisterous partisan crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe, who grew up in Maryland, put on a performance just as strong, if not stronger, than the one he used to eliminate 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.

“Man, man, this is wild. This is crazy. Had the biggest win of my life 24 hours ago. … That’s huge growth. it’s tough to turn the page,” said Tiafoe, who is seeded 22nd at Flushing Meadows.

Then, looking ahead, and making sure everyone knows this big milestone is not enough to satisfy him, Tiafoe said: “Let’s enjoy this one. We’ve got two more, guys. We’ve got two more.”

Andy Roddick was the last U.S. man to get to the semifinals in New York, when he lost to Roger Fededer in the title match 16 years ago. Roddick also was the last man from the country to win any Grand Slam singles championship, taking the 2003 U.S. Open.

Tiafoe’s first career Grand Slam semifinal will come against No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz or No. 11 Jannik Sinner.

Tiafoe played aggressive, offensive tennis and used 18 aces along with strong volleying to oust No. 9 Rublev, who dropped to 0-6 in major quarterfinals. Tiafoe won 31 of 41 points when he went to the net; Rublev only ventured forward 11 times.

In the women’s quarterfinals, No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka earned a second consecutive trip to the final four at Flushing Meadows with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over Karolina Pliskova.

“I’m ready for it,” Sabalenka said. “I’m ready for another fight.”

Sabalenka’s next opponent will be No. 1 Iga Swiatek or No. 8 Jessica Pegula, who were scheduled to play each other.

Pegula is the last player from the United States in the women’s bracket.

Rain drops began falling just before the start of Tiafoe vs. Rublev, so they stood around waiting for the retractable roof to be shut. That resulted in both a cool, wind-free environment and a louder setting, with applause and yells from fans reverberating in what became an indoor arena – circumstances that favored Tiafoe.

The match featured dominant serving by both – the only break of serve came more than two hours in, when Tiafoe went ahead 4-3 in the third set, then stood mostly motionless on court, enjoying the reaction from the stadium – and the most vital moments were the two tiebreakers.

Tiafoe is now 6-0 in tiebreakers at this U.S. Open. He excelled at that stage against Rublev, playing to the spectators and enjoying the crescendos of cheers that mirrored the way he lifted his performance.

Rublev actually had the first chance to nose ahead, with a set point at 6-5 in the first, but Tiafoe erased it with a risky forehand to a corner that drew a netted reply.

Several minutes later, it was Tiafoe who took the set, sealing it with a 130 mph ace, then strutting to the changeover, nodding and motioning with his racket for more noise. The audience obliged, included Tiafoe’s pal, Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal, from his front-row seat.

A similar scene played out in the second tiebreaker after a drop volley by Tiafoe forced a mistake by Rublev to make it 6-0.

When Tiafoe produced a backhand return winner to seal a two-set lead, he sprinted to the sideline, sat down near his messy collection of towels, shirts and socks spread out around the ground – call it “college dorm room chic” – and shook his fist amid the delirium of a standing ovation.

Tiafoe is definitely a showman. He demonstrated that against Nadal, then again against Rublev, who never tried to hide his anger at the way things were going.

Rublev would hit himself in the leg with his racket or punched his strings. Over and over, he gesticulated and yelled toward his guest box, where only four of the 15 seats were occupied, quite a contrast to Tiafoe’s packed section.

“I feel so at home on courts like this,” Tiafoe told the crowd. “You guys get behind me, I want to play my best.”

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Frances Tiafoe lifts Team World to 1st Laver Cup win

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LONDON — The last to arrive, befitting his reputation in the locker room, Frances Tiafoe strutted into the post-match news conference after clinching Team World’s Laver Cup victory over Roger Federer’s star-studded Team Europe and shouted, “Champs are here!”

Then the 24-year-old from Maryland joined his teammates at the table where the silver trophy was resting Sunday night, put down a bottle of water, pulled a Budweiser out of his red jacket and smiled that wide smile of his.

Performing with the same infectious showmanship and crunch-time success he displayed en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open earlier this month, Tiafoe staved off four match points and came back to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas 1-6, 7-6 (11), 10-8, giving Team World its first triumph in five editions of an event founded by Federer’s management company.

“I don’t like losing,” said Federer, a 20-time major champion whose final match before retirement was a loss alongside Rafael Nadal in doubles against Tiafoe and Jack Sock on Friday night. “It’s not fun. It just leaves not the best taste.”

When Tsitsipas put a forehand into the net to end Sunday’s contest – and the three-day competition – Tiafoe dropped his racket and fell to his back on the court, where teammates piled atop him. After getting on his feet, Tiafoe cupped a hand to his ear, asking spectators for more noise, then pointed to his chest and yelled, “I’m him! I’m him!”

“When it becomes a circus out here, and I’m just using the crowd and acting like a little kid and having a bunch of reactions … I end up playing really well and I start building momentum off it,” Tiafoe said. “I’m able to play and function in that better than my opponents, it seems.”

Using the nickname other players gave Tiafoe to reflect the way he embraces big moments, Team World captain John McEnroe said: “Frances is `Prime Time.’ He loves this stuff.”

McEnroe had been 0-4 while leading his squad against his former playing rival, Team Europe captain Bjorn Borg; both indicated they would be back for the 2023 Laver Cup in Vancouver, but that might be their last go-round.

This one served as a celebration of Federer and the 41-year-old Swiss star’s career.

Tiafoe responded with a quip when asked whether he might owe Federer some form of “I’m sorry” for beating him in his finale or for defeating his team, which also included Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for a total of 66 major singles titles. That, incidentally, is 66 more than Team World, a collection of 20-somethings (Sock turned 30 on Saturday).

“”I’m not going to apologize to him. He’s got a lot to apologize for after the last 24 years – after beating everybody on the tour,” said Tiafoe, who went 0-3 against Federer in singles head-to-head. “I will say thank you for having me in this amazing event, what he’s done for the game. He’s a class act. Happy to know him, happy to call him a friend, happy to call him a colleague, and best wishes in his second act. But I will not apologize.”

Team Europe entered Sunday at O2 Arena with an 8-4 lead; the first team to 13 points would win.

Each match on Day 3 was worth three points, and Team World went ahead thanks to a pair of victories by Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 22-year-old from Canada. He beat Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3), after partnering with Sock to edge Murray and Matteo Berrettini 2-6, 6-3, 10-8 in doubles.

Tiafoe then made it 13-8, but it wasn’t easy.

He went a tournament-record 8-0 in tiebreakers at Flushing Meadows this month and was just as resilient Sunday.

“It’s been a long time that Frances has been playing the big guys close and losing a lot of close battles. It’s great to see lately he’s been winning,” said Taylor Fritz, an American who is the same age as Tiafoe and has known him for years. “It’s about time that he steps up and the matches go the other way. Today was a joke.”

That’s because Tiafoe was a single point from losing to Tsitsipas four times in their second-set tiebreaker, but somehow got through that. Then, at 4-all in the concluding match tiebreaker – first to 10, win by two – Tiafoe sprinted from behind the baseline to near the net and barely got to a drop shot by Tsitsipas, somehow lunging to flick an angled winner.

While most of the 16,365 fans went wild, Tiafoe went around the net and stood still, hands on his hips, relishing the atmosphere.

“We put him in the slot that he was in today for a reason,” said Team World’s Tommy Paul, another 24-year-old American, “and he stepped up for us, big time.”