NEW YORK – Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe put on a high-powered, high-energy show of a home-and-away semifinal at the US Open – no moment it seemed like, no ball out of reach , not too bold angle.
A sequence was so stuffed with “What?! How?!” moments by the two men that the Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators got up before the end and stood there, cheering and celebrating, through a replay on the video screens.
In the end, enough winners have gone Alcaraz’s path, and too many mistakes have come from Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who stormed into their first Grand Slam final – and in doing so, gave themselves a shot at becoming No. 1 at 19 – ending Tiafoe’s run at Flushing Meadows with a 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-3 win on Friday night.
“It was so electric. I mean, the tennis definitely matched the hype of the match. Incredible shots, holds, extension points, crazy shots… at crazy times,” Tiafoe said. “Yeah, I was starting to get nervous.
Alcaraz appeared to take control winning nine of 10 games in one fell swoop and could have ended the night holding a match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe, who is ranked 26th, saved him and quickly shouted, with colorful language mixed in to accent, “I’m putting my heart on the line!” Shortly after, Tiafoe forced a fifth set by bettering a US Open record 8-0 in a tiebreaker.
Still, Alcaraz showed no signs of fatigue despite a third straight five-setter match, including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarter-final win that ended at 2:50 a.m. on Thursday, the latest finish for the tournament history. He was better when needed, winning four of the last five games.
“I feel good right now,” Alcaraz said nearly two hours after beating Tiafoe, then added, “I mean, a little tired.”
Now number 3 Alcaraz will face number 7 Casper Ruud for the championship on Sunday with so much at stake: the winner will become a major champion for the first time and lead the standings next week.
“It’s amazing to be able to fight for big things,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz and Tiafoe were both making their major semi-final debuts and delivered an exceptionally entertaining performance for just over a set, and just over an hour, at the start, then again for the latter part of the fourth. and the beginning of the fifth.
Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who knocked out 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sold-out crowd of more than 23,000, including former first lady Michelle Obama, asking and often receiving more noise. No surprise, considering he was the first American in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.
“I feel like I’ve let you down,” Tiafoe said in an unusual opportunity for the one-game loser to address the crowd during an on-court interview. “This one hurts. This one really, really hurts.”
Alcaraz, who comes from Spain, is popular around the world, widely recognized as a future star of the sport, and is now the youngest male US Open finalist of any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy aged 19 in 1990.
When Alcaraz took a 2–0 lead in the fourth, the spectators regaled him with a football-style song “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!”
“People love seeing this guy play, so they were supporting him too,” Tiafoe said. “Obviously I would have loved to win tonight, but I think tennis won tonight. I think the crowd got what they expected. I just wish I was the one who got the ‘W ‘.”
Afterwards, Alcaraz spoke first in English and then in Spanish, telling his supporters that they had helped him fight for “every point, every ball” and patted his chest saying that it was “for my family, for my team, for me, for all of you.”
There were so many memorable exchanges and scenes between Tiafoe and Alcaraz. One came in the third game of the second set, when Alcaraz saved a break point and continued to hold. A smiling Tiafoe jokingly climbed onto the net alongside Alcaraz, as if to shake hands at the end of the game.
If this semi-final had indeed ended on the spot, no one could have complained about the product. It would run for a total of 4 hours, 19 minutes.
They wore matching shirts – red in the front, white in the back, burgundy on the side – and were completely equal to each other for long periods of time, including up to 6-all in the broken d equal opening.
Alcaraz, who had by then already saved four set points, offered a fifth by sending a backhand wide, then facilitated the conversion of this one for Tiafoe by double faulting. As the crowd roared, Alcaraz ducked his head, walked to his sidelines seat and hit his kit bag with his racquet.
He regrouped and broke to come back in the second set, and a pivotal moment came with Alcaraz serving at 5-3 but facing a break point. He broke a forehand cross to erase that chance for Tiafoe, who started a run in which Alcaraz grabbed 11 straight points and 19 of 22 to own that set and a 4-0 lead in the third.
Like on that forehand, Alcaraz often tears the ball up with abandon – and, somehow, with precision too, aiming for the lines and finding them. He won at least three first-set points with shots that caught the outside edge of the white paint with no margin to spare.
After one, Tiafoe went for a little lighthearted exchange with Alcaraz coach Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who was briefly No. 1 himself. But make no mistake about it: Alcaraz is not a setback baseman. He has a varied game on all courts and has shown his skills by earning points via acrobatic volleys, feathery drop drops and perfectly parabolic lobs.
Apart from that lull in the second and third sets, and at the end of the fifth, Tiafoe was also outstanding and had fun the whole time.
“I’m going to come back,” Tiafoe said, “and I’ll win this thing someday.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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