A tennis player who is down in a set and 0-3 against a large serviced top-five seed on a Grand Slam is typically cooked. Frances Tiafoe is the most exciting men's American tennis inspector alive at the moment, but when he looked down on the deficit against South Africa's Kevin Anderson, he looked dead like another unusual young player would have been in that situation. It certainly didn't help Anderson beat him three times last season. But then Frances started to have some fun. It paid off.
The last two seasons have been an entertaining, uneven trip to Tiafoe. There was this breakout five-set against a creaking Roger Federer in New York and his first title; his first top ten victory and the third round in Wimbledon. And today, because of his 21
Towards Kevin Anderson is the first order of how to make a bulge in his servant. This is even harder than it sounds when Anderson holds 89 percent of his service games, good for sixth on tour. Tiafoe read it well, especially on the back, and blended his return positioning. Then he used his speed to beat the servers and force Anderson to play another ball. The US, who received 58 percent of Anderson, backs up to the play-way better than Anderson's first round victim, Adrian Mannarino, who only capped 49 percent and eventually reaped the rewards that broke in each of the last three sets.
But what was most characteristic of Tiafoes four-set comeback was the pure black on the screen. Black is baked in his game at the most elementary level. His backhand is a jerky flat shovel that meets the ball a cross earlier than one would expect; His forehand is a grand looping ordeal with an unpleasant kick. It is always fun to see a player with such divergent groundstrokes if it is fun to play against them – the opponent is confronted with another ball from one moment to another. Every time the ball returns over the net, it seems to have a new personality. It can be harder to establish a comfortable baseline rhythm when handling such different types of spin and pace for a moment to the next.
But the variety that matters most here is different. It would be Tiafoe's almost playful shot choice. Down a set and a break against an opponent who was expected to win, Tiafoe began to play a little freer. It might have been the freedom not to have anything to lose, or it might have been too late for him to find a tack that works, but he started to beat his usual groundstroke cleaner and perhaps even more importantly deviate from them at times to hit some funky off-speed shots. He seemed happy to see how the point played out, and not just willing but happy to improvise. For the Americans, it was a way to bet that his movement, which could be his greatest strength, could get him back in the fight.
A 20-year-old fleet moves more comfortably than the 32-year-old, 6-foot-8 Anderson, and so Tiafoe benefited by stretching out the points and depriving Anderson of all the free points his power and servant normally earns him . When he mounted his comeback in the second set, Tiafoe began to cut balls into games with sound margin for error, making Anderson run and clear. Take a look at his second to last shot here, a vicious linear backhand disc that jumps out of the field, essentially exposing Anderson from the point. From there, Tiafoe could play it safely with an unwanted advance disc and close the network.
Sometimes the Tiafoe disc was so good to win the point just like this drop shot that arrived wisely disguised as an approach stroke.
First, a disc that lands thoroughly in court; Anderson adheres to; Tiafoe fluttering a beautiful backhand that is weighted straight, dips down and dies right at Anderson's feet:
Tiafoe could also use a low slice when he approached the net, convinced that his overall movement would be enough for him to win a duel between both players on the face of the court .
When landing these slices so low and so low, he gave Anderson no choice but to get out of an unpleasant ball. Here he easily passes him with a great advance:
This point, so close to the finish line, was especially cheeky: Tiafoe entices Anderson again and then hits a strange floaty slice down the line, once again assured in his own ability to chase down regardless of heavy angle Anderson can pattern. It's almost a passing shot in two parts. At this point he plays mostly with his food.
All that was quite remarkable, and not just because of how well Tiafoe did it all. The implementation was remarkable – I notice it right here – but the conceptual aspect was the difference. It was a young player who understood his relative advantage and used it to come back in a fight that seemed anything but over. It has probably also helped Anderson take a medical timeout after the third set to get his operating arm treated, but still credit Tiafoe for being so creative. He hasn't had much success with the tour's absolute best to date, but if he can get strange, he may also win at that level.
He also brought all the usual show-stop stuff. If you've seen Frances Tiafoe before, you know that the best moments come when he cares forward on a full sprint. Here he demonstrates how to cancel an excellent servant return with these flat shots: first backhand down the line, then on the run, a forehand.
On the run again
It is gratifying to see that Tiafoe fully resides in his talent, even though it is only a struggle, but it is also a relief. It has been a little since there was an American on the man's side, this electric and it was so gratifying to be out there.