It’s all kicking off in Australian men’s tennis. Again.
He thumped his chest, flashed his right bicep and then pointed to it.
“It is kind of an instinct thing,” Tiafoe told reporters after his 4-6 6-4 6-4 7-5 win over Kevin Anderson Wednesday. “I hope the crowd liked it.”
They certainly seemed to – and the 20-year-old US player, part of the ATP’s “Next Gen,” certainly liked the result, too, as he defeated the 2018 Wimbledon finalist to reach the third round.
The world No. 39 came from behind, prevailing over the fifth seed on Margaret Court Arena to match his best showing at a grand slam.
But the two most successful men’s players in grand slams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, left day three unscathed by posting straight-set wins over Dan Evans and Matt Ebden, respectively.
Anderson famously outlasted Tiafoe’s countryman John Isner in a 6-hour, 30-minute semifinal at Wimbledon but he suffered physically Wednesday, receiving treatment to his right, serving elbow.
That would help to explain why the 6-foot-8 South African only struck 13 aces, below his average of around 16 in the last campaign.
Tiafoe, who learned his craft at a tennis center near Washington, D.C., where his father was the custodian, more than played his part in the final game when he saved two break points before clinching matters by serving and volleying.
Ended long losing streak
TIafoe’s wins in Melbourne are likely sweeter because he had lost nine consecutive matches – including the Hopman Cup and Next Gen ATP Finals – before arriving at the season’s first major.
That run included losing all three of his doubles matches at the Hopman Cup despite being paired with the legendary Serena Williams.
He also lost a tough five-set match to Russia’s Karen Khachanov at Wimbledon last year, fading in the final two sets.
Tiafoe, whose parents emigrated to the US from Sierra Leone, said spending time with 23-time grand slam winner Williams helped him, even if they didn’t achieve any wins together in Perth.
“She’s so nice,” Tiafoe told reporters. “Such a good competitor. Off the court, she’s so chilled and relaxed. Once she gets on, she hates losing. It’s unacceptable.
“I definitely felt that, playing. I was about as nervous as could be. Yeah, no, I think we grew a pretty good relationship. Yeah, I think that week definitely helped me long run.”
Tiafoe is one of the younger Americans tipped for big things. Another of them, Taylor Fritz, pulled off another upset when he eliminated French 30th-seed Gael Monfils 6-3 6-7 (8-10) 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5). He saved a set point at 5-6 in the third set as Monfils missed a backhand wide in a 23-shot rally.
Fritz’s US roommate in Melbourne, Mackenzie Macdonald, tested last year’s finalist Marin Cilic before exiting 7-5 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 6-4 and a fourth American under the age of 24, 7-foot Reilly Opelka, lost to Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano 6-7 (17-15) 6-2 6-4 3-6 7-6 (10-5) despite clubbing 67 aces.
How many aces did the 5-foot-8 Fabbiano hit? Two.
Looking to end drought
American women, led by Williams – of course – have long gone deep at grand slams but Andy Roddick was the last US man to bag a major, triumphing in 2003 in New York.
Federer, who holds the all-time men’s record with 20 grand slams, had perennially picked on his pal Roddick in grand slam finals.
Bidding for three in a row in Melbourne and what would be a record seventh overall, the 37-year-old progressed thanks to a hard-fought 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 win on the main Rod Laver Arena.
The tussle was punctuated with entertaining all-court rallies which Federer said he enjoyed, even in the heat of battle.
“I liked the match,” said Federer. “I thought he was playing well. It was enjoyable, yeah.”
The talented but troubled Evans received a one-year drug ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2017. His ranking tumbled from a high of 41st that season to nearly 1,200th in 2018 but Federer knew of the dangers the 28-year-old presented. Now ranked 189th, Federer thought a top-50 return was “no problem” for the Birmingham native.
Evans had chances
Evans led the first set tiebreak 5-4 with two serves to come but erred while attempting to volley a fine Federer return. If that was a forced error, he made an unforced error on the next point by missing a much more makeable forehand volley.
Foot blisters troubled Evans although he broke Federer to stay in the second set, only for the Swiss to claim the second tiebreak.
Federer downed Nadal in a classic 2017 final in five sets and the longtime friends and rivals are still on course to meet in the semifinals this year, since the 17-time major winner crushed Ebden 6-3 6-2 6-2 in the night session.
Up next for the Spaniard is a third straight Australian, 2018 ATP Newcomer of the Year Alex De Minaur, who needed five sets to see off Henri Laaksonen 6-4 6-2 6-7 (7-9) 4-6 6-3.
De Minaur is the latest young men’s hope from Australia and the level-headed 19-year-old appears to be on a better path than Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. They were also top prospects but have made more headlines for their indiscretions than results.
Defending women’s champion Caroline Wozniacki eased past Sweden’s Johanna Larsson 6-1 6-3 and will face Maria Sharapova in round three after the five-time grand slam winner beat another Swede Rebecca Peterson 6-2 6-1.