Two Wins In One Day: Tiafoe Breaks Through In Delray
Frances Tiafoe woke up on Saturday having never reached an ATP World Tour semi-final. Yet the #NextGenATP American will go to sleep tonight after advancing to his first final. How about that for a day?
After finishing off his victory against reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Hyeon Chung on Saturday afternoon at the Delray Beach Open on his eighth match point, the 20-year-old beat 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 6-4 in 71 minutes in the evening to earn the right to play for his first ATP World Tour trophy on Sunday.
"It's been a great last couple of weeks," Tiafoe said. "I'm just trying to keep riding this wave and see where it takes me."
Tiafoe has been waiting for this moment, having contested 43 tour-level matches before this week (11-32) without reaching a semi-final. The right-hander just advanced to his first ATP World Tour quarter-final at last week's inaugural New York Open. And with the Shapovalov victory, Tiafoe became the second #NextGenATP American to reach a tour-level final, joining Taylor Fritz (Memphis 2016). He can become the youngest American to claim a title since a 19-year-old Andy Roddick at 2002 Houston.
"As a kid you always want to win your first title and now I have a chance to do it tomorrow," Tiafoe said. "Hopefully I can do it."
Shapovalov was also pursuing his first ATP World Tour final, and could have become the youngest player to win a tour-level title since Kei Nishikori 10 years ago this week, also in Delray Beach. Early on, the Canadian cruised on serve, losing just four points on his delivery through his first five service games. But Tiafoe earned his first two break points at 5-5, ripping a backhand return down the line for a winner before sprinting to his chair. He would have no issues serving out the set.
Tiafoe used that momentum to break two more times, grabbing a 3-0, double-break lead in the second set. And while Shapovalov clawed one break back, that was as close as he would get.
"I have to give Frances credit today. He played extremely well. He's been hot all week, beating unbelievable players," Shapovalov said. "He was the more dominant player for sure today. It's disappointing, but it's been a great week for me so going to take the positives from this week and keep going forward."
The American played patient, but aggressive tennis throughout the match, not forcing play, but taking advantage of the smallest of openings. He consistently attacked Shapovalov's one-handed backhand — especially with his serve — eliciting many errors off that side to help win 77 per cent of his service points. For an up-and-comer who had never been in a semi-final before Saturday, Tiafoe showed no nerves when serving for his first final, closing out the match at love.
The World No. 91 looked at his box, shaking his head up and down after clinching the match. He pointed his index finger at the court as if to say, “This is my time".
Tiafoe will play someone who has had plenty of success against Americans this week, as German Peter Gojowczyk disappointed the home crowd by defeating American Steve Johnson 7-6(3), 6-3 at earlier in the day to move into his second ATP World Tour final. The World No. 64 pursues his second title after winning the 2017 Moselle Open (d. Paire) as a qualifier. It was also his eighth consecutive tour-level win against Americans.
"I don't have something with Americans. I like you," said Gojowczyk — who is 12th in the Infosys ATP Under Pressure Leaderboard — with a laugh. "It's just a great week for me. I enjoy the time here in Delray... I love it."
The 28-year-old was No. 140 in the ATP Rankings last July. But with a win on Sunday against one of two #NextGenATP stars, Canadian Denis Shapovalov or Frances Tiafoe, Gojowczyk will move into the Top 50 for the first time in his career.
The semi-final was a far different match than his previous two for the right-hander, as he beat the 6’10” Isner and 6’11” Opelka in back-to-back matches. But the change in opposing style did not cause many problems — Gojowczyk saved the only break point he faced and won 77 per cent of service points to triumph. He has not been broken since the second set of his first-round victory against Slovakian Lukas Lacko.
"I thought he played exceptional tennis. A couple points I'd love to have change, but he came up with good stuff when he needed to come up with good stuff," Johnson said. "He served great. Had my looks, didn't take advantage of them today. That's tennis... nothing to hang my head about. I thought he played fantastic tennis."
It was still a strong week for the 28-year-old Johnson. Despite losing eight of nine tour-level matches before arriving in Delray Beach this week, the World No. 51 got back on track by advancing to his first ATP World Tour semi-final since winning the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship last April.
Gojowczyk has not played Tiafoe in a FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. However, he has split two career matches against the American — he beat the 20-year-old in 2016 Australian Open qualifying before losing their next encounter at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Winnetka, Illinois, later that year.
Sock/Withrow Pursue First Team Title
The World No. 8 in singles, Jack Sock, partnered childhood friend and the No. 97 in the ATP Doubles Rankings, Jackson Withrow, past third seeds Ben McLachlan and Hugo Nys 6-7(3), 7-6(4), 10/4 to advance to their first ATP World Tour final as a team. Sock has claimed eight tour-level doubles titles from 18 finals (8-10), while Withrow fell in his lone ATP World Tour final at the Ecuador Open earlier this month with Austin Krajicek.
The pair will play fourth seeds Nicholas Monroe and John-Patrick Smith, who outlasted Matthew Ebden and Donald Young 7-6(4), 2-6, 10/7. Monroe/Smith began competing together at the 2017 US Open and will play in their first final as a pair on Sunday.
Did You Know?
Tiafoe had nine tour-level victories before last week's New York Open (9-31). He now has six in the past two weeks alone.