Frances Tiafoe has thrust his way into the US Open semis. Dropping only a set- against Rafael Nadal, no less- the American has ridden a wave of loud home support to blaze his trail at New York’s Flushing Meadows. His recent victim was the Russian 9th seed Andrey Rublev. After three tightly-fought sets, the 22nd seed sealed his first semi-final appearance in a Grand Slam. It was touch-and-go across the three sets. A tiebreak settled the first; Tiafoe won 7-3. As was the second, but the tiebreak was more emphatic- the American blanking the Russian 7-0. The third was less strenuous, ending 6-4 in his favour.
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The 24-year-old has enjoyed himself on the blue hard courts of the season’s final Slam. American Marcus Giron was the first to fall to him. A 7-6 (0), 6-4, 6-3 win in the first round brought Australian Jason Kubler into his sights. Their three sets lasted 3 hours and 11 minutes, as Kubler did not yield softly. As far as straight-set wins go, it doesn’t get much closer than their duel. The 7-6 (3), 7-5, 7-6 (2) scoreline speaks of the rigours involved. Making a habit of playing tiebreaks, Tiafoe’s third-round clash against 14th seed Argentine Diego Schwartzman kicked off with a long-drawn first-set tiebreak: 9-7 in favour of the Maryland resident. He won the next two by an identical margin of 6-4. The fourth round brought him face-to-face with Rafael Nadal. The 2nd seed, who had been tetchy all week, failed to match Tiafoe’s electric form, succumbing in four sets. The 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win left him as stunned as his opponent. Almost in tears, the disbelief was etched across his face. Arthur Ashe Stadium rose in appreciation.
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After Nadal, Rublev was small fry for the buoyant Tiafoe. But in Carlos Alcaraz, he faces an arguably tougher Spaniard and the tournament’s highest remaining seed. The 3rd seed overcame Italian Jannik Sinner in a marathon fiver-plus hour epic. But the ‘Total Tennis’ – as one expert put it- he’s capable of will make him the sternest test in the American’s bid for a final berth. Come through this, and one of Karen Khachanov or Casper Ruud awaits.