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Instead of getting angry, Frances Tiafoe used his racquet to get past Alexander Bublik's mixed bag of shots and stunts
As a result, the American posted his best Wimbledon showing by taking their third-rounder, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (3), 6-4, on Friday.
Published Jul 01, 2022
WATCH CREDENTIALED: Tiafoe ready to put on a show
Underhand first serves, supersonic second serves, casual slice forehands, high-arcing moonballs, sardonic laughter: That was all Alexander Bublik seemed to have left by the time his match with Frances Tiafoe reached the middle of the fourth set on Court 2 on Friday. The Russian native had—or appeared to have—checked out. Down 1-4, break point, he went for a bomb second serve that just clipped the back of the service line. Another few inches and Tiafoe would have been up 5-1, and surely home free.
But Bublik still had life, and he made the most of it. He held and, beginning to believe again, began mixing his exhibition-style shots with legitimate ones. Suddenly he had broken at love, held serve, and reached break point for 5-4. Bublik was pumped, the crowd was cheering in disbelief, and Tiafoe was wondering where his victory, and his first trip to the fourth round at Wimbledon, had gone.
Nobody would have been surprised if the American had lost his cool, or even directed some anger in the direction of Bublik, who had pushed his antics to the limits of good sportsmanship. But Tiafoe didn’t do any of that. He just played tennis. He fired an ace to save break point at 4-4, and found a way to hold. He outdid Bublik in his specialty—the cat-and-mouse rally—with a perfect backhand pass at 5-4. He stayed patient until his opponent came down to earth. Bublik, his adrenalin rush subsiding, closed with a double fault.
Instead of getting angry, Tiafoe said he knew that he had an opportunity to do things with his own racquet to counter what Bublik was doing with his. That’s tennis, and that’s the only way you can win in this type of situation.
“I was fuming at one point,” Tiafoe said. “I was trying to keep it in. I think just getting that hold at 4-all was just so big. Hitting that ace down break point was massive.”
“He wasn’t checked out. He was just trying to get me off my game, which he did. No one is checked out when they’re at Wimbledon.”
“What he was doing was working, but obviously not good enough.”
Tiafoe had lost to Bublik 11 days earlier, and there was a time when he probably wouldn’t have made it across the finish line in a match like today’s. It wasn’t just his fourth set that was impressive.
In the third-set tiebreaker, with the two players on serve at 4-3, the match reached its crucial moment. And that’s when Tiafoe played three of his best points of the day. He won one with a down the line backhand approach, another with a crosscourt forehand, and the third with a service winner. He was aggressive and opportunistic when the time called for it.
“I’m super-pumped, super-pumped to be second week of Wimbledon, fourth round,” he said.
“I know when I’m at my best, I’m one of the better grass-court players out there.”
He was just trying to get me off my game, which he did. No one is checked out when they’re at Wimbledon. —Tiafoe on Bublik's fourth-set aproach
Tiafoe will have a chance to back those words up next week. He’ll play David Goffin in the fourth round; the American is 1-4 against the Belgian, but they’ve never played on this surface. Whoever wins will have a solid opportunity to make the semifinals: The other three players standing in the way as of now are Cam Norrie, Steve Johnson, and Tommy Paul.
As the second week starts, it will be a moment of opportunity, and truth, for Tiafoe and his fellow American men. He and Paul are into the fourth round, while as of this writing Jenson Brooksby, Taylor Fritz, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, and John Isner are still alive in the third.
“Guys are just good,” Tiafoe said when he was asked about the U.S. men’s contingent. “Most of us were seeded, most seeded in Paris, too. We’re playing great tennis. I think we always feed off each other. We all believe it, all believe we can be even doing better than what we are doing currently.”
They’ve been here before. At last year’s US Open, there were four American men and four American women in the third round. By the quarterfinals, all eight were gone. At some point, if they keep putting themselves in these mid-tournament positions, somebody’s going to make a breakthrough and win one of these things. Right?
“One guy does well, next guy wants to step up,” Tiafoe said. “It’s all good. I think we just gotta keep going.”
Today Tiafoe, by competing instead of raging, showed the way.