Frances Tiafoe loves to compete on the biggest stages. The American proved that again on Monday evening in Cincinnati.
Tiafoe fought past the Italian star Matteo Berretini 7-6(3), 4-6, 7-6(5) to reach the second round of the Western & Southern Open. The 24-year-old equalized his ATP Head2Head series twice Nitto ATP Finals Competitor at 1:1.
“People don’t understand that, obviously the results didn’t really show how well I played. I honestly played great tennis,” Tiafoe said in his on-court interview. “I really just needed it. I know it’s a first round game… But everyone knew why I needed that against a high quality player, so it was big.
“I know I’ve beaten a lot of these guys but that hasn’t happened lately. So it’s one of those things where you have to get over your shoulder. But I’m glad I’ll get another chance to play again.”
Frances Tiafoe” />
Credit: Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
It wasn’t the first time Tiafoe had been in a close match against a big star during the North American hard-court swing. In Washington, he earned five match points against it Nick Kyrgiosbut fell short.
It seemed like déjà vû under the floodlights at the Lindner Family Tennis Center as he gambled away three match points. This time, however, Tiafoe finished the job in two hours and 52 minutes.
Berrettini held on all evening, saving all eight break points he faced. With the score at 5:6 in the third set, the Italian faced the match point on his serve. A ball bounced off the net high up allowed the world No. 15 to charge forward and hit a forehand. The problem for him was that Tiafoe guessed the right direction and laced up a backhand passing crosscourt.
Tiafoe, his trainer, Wayne Ferreira, and viewers in Cincinnati thought the American had managed to close the game, but a replay showed the ball was straight out. It was so close that Ferreira had started to get up from his chair to celebrate.
Rather than be swayed by that moment, Tiafoe went straight back to work and played a solid tiebreak to continue.
Fans urged Tiafoe throughout the evening, and the American was quick to encourage them. After hitting a curling forehand pass shot for a 5-4 lead in the third set, he waved for the crowd to raise their voices and help push him across the finish line.
According to that INSIGHTS: In Attack metric, Tiafoe played 26 percent of his shots from an attacking position compared to 21 percent for Berrettini, who is one of the strongest players on the ATP Tour. This helped the American control the pace of play and prevent his opponent from using his power too often.