For a few brief moments, it seemed that France Tiafoe’s dream run at the US Open would continue, but it began to unravel in a flash before he ultimately lost to Carlos Alcaraz 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 5-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3.
Despite both players playing in their first Grand Slam semi-final ever, the moment didn’t seem too big for either of them. Yet, early on it was Frances Tiafoe who seemed most ready to take advantage of the opportunity. He was on the biggest stage of his life, under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, against the 3rd-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t flinch.
Tiafoe hit four aces in the first set as both men came out playing electric tennis. They traded big serves and powerful groundstrokes with each man winning every first set service game and pushing into a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker, Tiafoe, who had won all six of his tiebreakers at the US Open coming into the match, did what he had done all tournament. He blasted first serves and put the pressure on Alcaraz’s serve, making him earn each point. Ultimately, Tiafoe was able to steal an early point on Alcaraz’s serve and earn three set points.
Alcaraz foiled all of them.
However, just two points later, the 19-year-old Spaniard double-faulted to give Frances Tiafoe the first set and it seemed like the man fans call “Big Foe” was trending towards pulling off another upset.
But Carlos Alcaraz wasn’t going anywhere. Despite being an epic five-set thriller against Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals, and another five-set marathon against Marin Cilic in the round of 16, Alcaraz had no end to his stamina, getting to seemingly impossible shots and keeping the pressure on Tiafoe all match.
CARLOS ALCARAZ OMG! 😱😱
Even Tiafoe had to smile after this
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 10, 2022
Mid-way through the second set, that pressure seemed to get to be too much. Alcaraz broke Tiafoe to go up 4-2 and then outlasted Tiafoe’s immediate challenge, winning the longest game of the match to fend off a break point and go up 5-2.
Tiafoe would hold serve to make it 5-3 but then would lose the next five games, and the tenor of the match had shifted drastically.
Despite that hold of serve late in the second set, it seemed that Tiafoe’s inability to capitalize on that break opportunity had taken some of the wind out of his sails. He came out flat to start the third set, as though the grind of the two weeks on the hot, hard courts had caught up to him, sapping his energy in an instant.
After a long bathroom break in between sets, Tiafoe proceeded to hit groundstrokes into the net and lose control of his first serve. He was never competitive at all in the third set, losing the crowd and the set 6-1.
Alcaraz held serve to start the fourth and then broke Tiafoe, and it seemed like the Spaniard would roll to another easy set win, but the American refused to let two tremendous weeks of tennis end like that. He grinded his way to his first break of the match, and it seemed like a switch was flipped.
Even though Alcaraz broke Tiafoe again, Tiafoe simply broke him back, ensuring that the set stayed on serve. He started smashing groundstrokes again, pushing Alcaraz into the corners, and even though the higher-seeded player got to basically every shot, Tiafoe kept the pressure on him, even chasing down this ball on match point in a game he would ultimately go on to win.
MATCH POINT SAVE 🪄 pic.twitter.com/ebMy5KxzgI
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2022
Between games, the cameras caught him saying, “I’m putting my heart on the [email protected]*ing line,” and it was easily apparent. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough.
Tiafoe won the fourth set in a tiebreaker, setting a record by going 8-0 in tiebreakers at the US Open, but Alcaraz outlasted him. Just as he outlasted Marin Cilic in the round of 16 and the way he outlasted Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals.
The young Spaniard simply made too many plays in the final set, but Tiafoe will also be kicking himself for his performance on his service games. He connected on just 46% of his first serves, which is simply not good enough when you’re competing for Grand Slam titles.
Tiafoe hit 52 unforced errors to 51 winners while Alcaraz had 59 winners to just 37 unforced errors. He simply dug himself too many holes to climb out of, no matter how hard he fought.
“This one hurts,” Tiafoe said fighting back tears at the end of the match. “This one really, really hurts…Too good from Carlos. I came here wanting to win the US Open, and I feel like I let you guys down” he said to the fans.
Yet, the disheartening result on Friday night can’t overshadow the epic performance from Tiafoe during the 2022 US Open. He sustained a tremendous level of aggression and energy throughout his first five matches, smashing big serves and pushing top-tier players like Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev to the brink before eliminating them.
He was finally avoiding the dips in performance that had plagued him at other Grand Slams and making the most of his talent. While that dip eventually caught up to him, Tiafoe proved that he can play with anybody when he’s on his game.
“I will win this thing one day. I’m sorry, guys.”
While he very well might, this will undoubtedly feel like a chance that slipped through his fingertips. He was good on Friday but just not at his best, and Carlos Alcaraz took advantage. The 3rd-ranked player made shot after shot, looking invincible at times sustaining a legendary level of tennis.
“We are in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam,” Alcaraz said on court after the match. “We have to give everything we have inside.”
It was another impressive display in what has been a rapid rise for Alcaraz, who was barely ranked inside the top 100 when he came to the US Open just last year. He defeated 26th-seed Cameron Norrie in straight sets in the first round and later knocked out 3rd-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets in the third round.
He would win one more match to become the youngest US Open men’s quarterfinalist in the Open Era and the youngest Grand Slam men’s singles quarterfinalist since 18-year-old American Michael Chang at the 1990 French Open. It’s possible he could have advanced even farther if he didn’t have to pull out of his quarter-final matchup due to injury.
Now, a year later, the young Spaniard is in the US Open final against 5th-seeded Norweigian Casper Ruud. Since Novak Djokovic was not allowed to play in the Australian and US Open, and Tiafoe knocked out Nadal in the Round of 16, the winner of Sunday’s final will be the new number one player in men’s tennis.
As if the stakes of playing for your first-ever Grand Slam championship weren’t big enough already.
“I will have to handle the nerves of being in the final of a Grand Slam, but I’m going to enjoy the moment, and let’s see what happens.”