Alcaraz halts Tiafoe’s US Open run to 1st Grand Slam final

NEW YORK (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe engaged in a high-level, high-energy spectacle of a U.S. Open semifinal — meaningless when it looked, no ball out of reach, no angle too daring.

A sequence she was so full of “What?! How?!” moments from both men that had the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd on their feet before it ended and stayed there, clapping and cheering, through a replay on the video screens.

Ultimately, several of the winners went Alcaraz’s way and too many of the mistakes came from Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who reached his first Grand Slam final – and, in the process, gave himself the chance to become No. 1 at 19 – by ending Tiafoe’s streak at Flushing Meadows 6-7 (6), 6 -3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win Friday night.

“It’s amazing to be able to fight for big things,” Alcaraz said.

“You have given everything to the court,” he said. “France gave everything on the pitch.”

Alcaraz appeared to have taken control by taking nine of 10 games in a row and could have ended the night when he held a match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe, who is ranked 26th, saved it and soon shouted, with colorful language mixed in for emphasis, “I’m putting my heart on the line!” Soon after, Tiafoe took a fifth set to improve his US Open record to 8-0 in tiebreaks.

Still, Alcaraz showed no signs of tiring despite playing a third straight five-setter — including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal victory that ended at 2:50 a.m. on Thursday, the last finish in tournament history – and was better when it needed to be, taking four of the last five games.

Now No. 3 Alcaraz will face No. 7 Casper Ruud for the championship on Sunday with so much on the line: The winner will become a first-time major champion and lead the standings next week.

“Very good from Carlos tonight,” Tiafoe said. “I gave everything I had.”

Alcaraz and Tiafoe made their big semi-final debuts and put on a hugely entertaining show for just over a set, and just over an hour, at the start and then again for the latter part of the fourth and the start of the fifth.

Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sellout crowd of more than 23,000 that included former first lady Michelle Obama, often asking for — and receiving — more boos. No surprise, given that he was the first American in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.

“I feel like I let you down,” Tiafoe said during a rare opportunity for the loser of a game to address the crowd in an on-court interview. “This hurts. This really, really hurts.”

Alcaraz, who is from Spain, is popular around the world, widely recognized as a future star of the sport and is now the youngest US Open men’s finalist from any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy at 19 in 1990.

When Alcaraz went up 2-0 in the fourth, the crowd cheered him with a football chant of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!”

Afterwards, Alcaraz spoke first in English and then in Spanish, telling supporters they had helped him fight for “every point, every ball” and pounding his chest as he said this was “for my family, for the team me, for me, for all of you.”

During the first semi-final of the day, which featured a 55-shot point to end the first set, people chanted the winner’s last name – “Ruuuuud!” — and it sounded like they were booing, rather than cheering. Rudd won that long rally and built an early lead and a run to beat Karen Khachanov 7-6 (5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

“Toward the end,” Rudd, a 23-year-old from Norway, said of the biggest point of this US Open, “the heart rate was going way up and the legs were almost shaking.”

He entered this year with a record of just 14-13 in Grand Slam matches, then had to pull out of the Australian Open in January after twisting his ankle in practice.

Since then? He is 13-2 at majors in 2022. That includes finishing as runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.

“After Roland Garros, I was, of course, extremely happy,” Rudd said, “but also humble enough to think that this could be the only final of my career.”

It wasn’t long before he reached his second.

And now either the six-place jump will represent the longest-ever move to No. 1 or Alcaraz will become the youngest man to reach the top of the ATP since the electronic rankings began in 1973.

There were so many memorable exchanges and scenes between Tiafoe and Alcaraz. One arrived inside third game of the second set, when Alcaraz saved a break point and continued to hold. A smiling Tiafoe jokingly climbed over the net to Alcaraz’s side, as if to shake hands at the end of the match.

If this semi-final had actually been completed then and there, no one could complain about the product. It would run for a total of 4 hours and 19 minutes.

They wore matching shirts – red on the front, white on the back, burgundy on the side – and were level with each other for long stretches, even as far as 6th in the first tiebreaker.

Alcaraz, who by then had already saved four set points, won a fifth by sending a backhand, then made the conversion easy for Tiafoe with a double fault. As the crowd roared, Alcaraz hung his head, went to the side of the seat and hit his gear bag with his racket.

He regrouped and broke to take the second set and a pivotal moment arrived with Alcaraz serving at 5-3 but facing a break point. It took a cross-court forehand winner to erase that opportunity for Tiafoe, which started a run in which Alcaraz rattled off 11 straight points and 19 of 22 to take that set and a 4-0 lead in the third.

As with that forehand, Alcaraz often rips the ball with abandon—and, somehow, also with precision, targeting the lines and finding them. He won no fewer than three first set points with shots that caught the outside edge of the white paint without a margin.

After one, Tiafoe went for a little light-hearted exchange with Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who was briefly No. 1 himself. Make no mistake, though: Alcaraz it’s not something that stands out. He has a varied all-court game and showed off his skills by scoring points through acrobatic volleys, feathery drop shots and perfectly parabolic lobs.

Aside from that lull in the second and third sets, and late in the fifth, Tiafoe was also outstanding, having the time of his life.

“I’m going to come back,” Tiafoe said, “and I’m going to win it one day.”

___

More AP coverage of US Open tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/us-open-tennis-championships and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *