Frances Tiafoe completes a performance rare for Americans at the US Open

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NEW YORK – If Frances Tiafoe hasn’t been bent over by one heartbreaking five-set loss in the fourth round at Wimbledon this summer, perhaps because he knew what was to come.

The 24-year-old from Hyattsville took that loss to David Goffin and refused to turn a bump into another. On Saturday at the US Open, he continued his steady rise, chasing away 14th seed Diego Schwartzman with a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 6-4 win that sent him through to the fourth round.

This is after he hit a career high of 24th in the world last month (although he currently sits at 26th).

He became the first American to complete the fourth round at Flushing Meadows three years in a row since Mardy Fish from 2010-2012.

“There’s still a lot to do,” Tiafoe said afterwards on the pitch. “We still have a week.”

Tiafoe was waiting for his next opponent – either 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal or Richard Gasquet, who played later on Saturday.

Tiafoe will be fighting for his second appearance in a major quarterfinal after reaching that stage at the 2019 Australian Open where he lost to Nadal.

Attitude, it seems, is important to Tiafoe these days. He’s approaching the challenge of this year’s final Major with an open mind after watching 10th-seeded Taylor Fritz, the top-seeded American, and 4th-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas bust out in the opening round.

But with that openness comes a healthy reluctance to push yourself.

“There’s just a general changing of the guard,” he said this week. “Who’s that guy going to be, who’s going to be that consistent guy that hasn’t really formed yet? All are about the same level, honestly. All are beatable at the same time. Even the top guys.

“It’s cool. I think tennis needs that, see some new faces, what do you have. But it’s interesting. I mean, I’m not there yet. You ask me. I’m still the dark horse, that something Can do special. I kind of like that I’m not on the front line because, you know, let these guys handle the pressure. I’m kind of a Court 17, get some cheeky wins.”

Blame the US Tennis Association for putting Tiafoe in the stands rather than the more intimate Court 17 on Saturday. In the course of the afternoon, his victory was more disciplined than cheeky.

It still had elements of the usual Tiafoe.

The first set was a 73-minute carnival of long rallies and can-you-believe-that throws that saw Tiafoe quickly drop to 2-5 and then fend off five set points, including three in the tiebreak. A happy crowd in the stands rejoiced, even with a strong number of Schwartzman supporters among them.

Tiafoe then did what any good showman would do after preparing his audience. He turned up his energy.

Tiafoe came out in set number two by jumping on Schwartzman’s serve and eventually took control by earning a break point at 4-4. At this point, the Argentine settled down where he feels most at home: the baseline.

Tiafoe converted the break point with a 22-shot rally that brought the house down, but he wasn’t done yet. After exaggeratingly dragging his feet toward a group of guys seated in court, he slapped the five of them, sat on the partition, then threw up his hands and fell dramatically into the crowd.

It was a miracle he got back up – the point put him 20-7 in rallies of nine shots or more.

After that, it was easy to finish the last two sets. Tiafoe’s tired legs helped him to a double break point again in the third at 4-4, which he converted by charging into the net. In the final game, he elicited two backhand errors from Schwartzman and sealed matters with back-to-back aces, the second hitting 134 mph.

The next time he plays it probably won’t be in the stands let alone Court 17. He can certainly be at Arthur Ashe Stadium and face a champion and all the pressure that comes with that.

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