WHAT HAPPENED: Frances Tiafoe could only throw up his hands. As his Aussie opponent Alex de Minaur served to take the opening set, Tiafoe rocketed a forehand that would have won him the point against most players. But all the American could do was watch as de Minaur replied with a stab volley that trickled over the net for a winner.
This was the theme of Tiafoe’s maiden second-round showing in Flushing Meadows: Most things the 20-year-old tried, de Minaur solved. In the first tour-level meeting between the two #NextGenATP players, de Minaur was the clear winner, advancing to the third round for the second consecutive Grand Slam 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2.
“I always knew that Frances could have some drops, but his high level is also amazing. The most important thing for me today was to try to keep in the moment throughout the whole match, just try to take my chances. That's what I was able to do,” de Minaur said.
A year ago, with Aussie men’s tennis headlines stalking Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, de Minaur was an unknown commodity. His ranking was north of 180; he didn’t even play at Wimbledon, and he lost to Dominic Thiem in his Flushing Meadows first-rounder.
But this year, after making his first ATP final in Sydney (l. to Medvedev), de Minaur has put it all together. He has surged to inside the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings. He reached the third round at Wimbledon, and he’s returned to the round of 32 at the US Open. He will next face 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, a 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 winner against 21-year-old Pole Hubert Hurkacz.
The Aussie, who is mentored by 2001 US Open champion Lleyton Hewitt, played attacking tennis against Tiafoe, who won his first match at the US Open on Tuesday against 29th seed Adrian Mannarino of France. De Minaur pounced on anything short from the American, and was eager to go for the winner when Tiafoe wanted to rally.
De Minaur served out the opening set behind six of nine successful trips to the net. Tiafoe faded in the second, but he regrouped in time behind a packed Court 17 crowd to force a fourth set after first failing to serve out the third set. De Minaur, however, broke to start the fourth and sailed on serve, erasing both break points.
“It’s disappointing,” Tiafoe said. “This is a match I definitely thought I could have prevailed, get this one done. But I didn’t play well. He deserved it. He fought hard.”
WHAT IT MEANS: De Minaur and Kyrgios give Australia two men in the third round of the season’s final Grand Slam. Kyrgios is grabbing the headlines, no doubt, but the 19-year-old de Minaur is worth a watch as he continues to show his true potential and build upon his breakthrough season on tour.
He pressured Tiafoe throughout their second-rounder, tossing in a few SABA's (Sneak Attacks By Alex) and following second-serve returns to the net. The right-hander charged the net 41 times, winning 66 percent of his visits (27/41).
De Minaur will try to pick up his first Top 10 win (0-6) against Cilic and make the fourth round of a Slam for the first time.
"I'm very happy. Especially after Wimbledon where I had an amazing run. To be able to back it up in the next major, really proud of my efforts. It shows how I'm doing things in the right direction. Just got to keep focused, keep trying to get better," de Minaur said. "It's going to be another tough match. He's obviously a quality opponent who has won here. But saying that, I'm looking forward to the opportunity. It's another chance for me to see where my game's at against these higher-level opponents."
MATCH POINT: De Minaur has made two ATP hard-court finals this season: Sydney in January (l. to Daniil Medvedev) and Washington in July (l. to Alexander Zverev).