Americans finally have some dogs in the fight: Sock, Fritz, Tiafoe, Donaldson, Mmoh, Rubin… However, at just nineteen years old and Ranked 101, it is Tiafoe who has my undivided attention. His serve, forehand and court speed are his weapons, indeed the trifecta. His forehand looks a bit like Kyrigios’ but his backhand maybe his kryptonite, functional but attackable. He hits with great pace and precision. With his deceptive old man walk on his toes nevertheless, he is ready to take on his idol in their first meeting. This is a tough match for any player, but like many young players Tiafoe excels on the big stage.
Federer is on a winning streak, Australian open against his all time foe Nadal and Indian Wells against countryman Wawrinka. He is the ATPs honing steel. New players dream about the opportunity to play the maestro as a way to assess their games and obtain childhood goals. Tiafoe is no different. In his post match press he indicated that he lost focus in his second round match with Konstantin Kravchuk in anticipation of a Federer match.
Yeah, I [Tiafoe] mean, I thought the match was pretty one way until about set and a break, a set and 4-1. Yeah, got pretty ugly there. Started rushing a bit and started looking for it already. Started missing a lot of easy shots and made life tough for myself… Yeah, it’s Roger Federer. This guy has about a million Grand Slams and done everything. I mean, I can’t tell you how excited I am to play. Seeing the draw was partly probably why being up a set and 4- 1 I started rushing and thinking, Oh, my God, I’m going to play Roger, I’m going to play Roger. Then I started thinking, Okay, if I don’t get it done I won’t. Yeah, I mean, he’s my idol, everyone’s idol. People still on tour in the locker room stare at him. He’s an absolute legend. We hope he never retires because he’s such a good ambassador for the sport…He’s too smooth to emulate. Yeah, you can’t emulate a guy like him. He makes it look way too easy… Yeah, I mean, Roger, he’s everyone’s idol, and I really can’t wait to play him. I wish I almost didn’t have to wait. I almost want to play right now. –Miami Open Press Conference Transcript
On the tour since 2015, this tall (6’2”) and sturdy contender has a lot to prove and chances are he will not be folding; he will force Federer to play. Tiafoe came out sharp in the first game. Up 40-0 he double faulted, then netted a ball before securing the game. He had little problem holding serve and worked hard on Federer’s serve running and moving twice as much as his opponent. In the tiebreak, Federer forged ahead quickly 3-0 before Tiafoe was able to respond on his own serve bringing it 3-2. Under Federer’s composure, we could see his respect and apprehension; when he won the set 7-6(2) relief was apparent.
Federer opened the second set with a sloppy game, being broken by Tiafoe 15-40. Angered, he quickly broke back with on point grazing Tiafoe’s head for emphasis. With Anna Wintour in the capacity audience he brought it to Tiafoe in the third game. Each had some great shots, down the line, passing, serves and even some wide misses in the third game which Federer ultimately won with two poor Tiafoe errors. Down 0-40 in the fourth game, Tiafoe bravely held and put Federer on notice! However, in the fifth game he totally went away and Federer held 40-0. At 2-3 Tiafoe is trailing and under pressure at 40-30, when he finally losses serve on a ball he was right on top of and sends sailing. With the break, Federer accelerates securing the lead 5-2. Tiafoe, is most impressive at this point. He doesn’t go away and holds, forcing Federer to serve for the match. Federer may have won the match 7-6(2), 6-3 but Tiafoe announced his arrival. Look for Tiafoe on tour. His game won’t disappoint and it will likely earn him a grand slam!