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US Open Men's Semifinal Previews: Casper Ruud vs. Karen Khachanov; Carlos Alcaraz vs. Frances Tiafoe
With a first-time major champion guaranteed to break through in Queens, which two competitors will take a big step forward Friday?
Published Sep 09, 2022
Casper Ruud vs. Karen Khachanov
Compared to the other semifinal, between Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe, Ruud-Khachanov has an undercard feel to it.
Khachanov, 26, has been a fixture in the ATP’s second tier for half a decade, but he’s just now making his Grand Slam semifinal debut. While Ruud, 23, reached his first major final at Roland Garros this year, he’s yet to develop a connection with the fans in New York. Neither the Russian nor the Norwegian can be a called a showman or a controversial figure. On the contrary, they’re two of the tour’s down-to-earth solid citizens, and likable people.
They’ve played once, on clay in Rome in 2020, and Ruud won in three sets. The surface here should help level the playing field for Khachanov, who has won all four of his career titles on hard courts—three of them indoors.
In truth, though, these two play a similar brand of forehand-based tennis, and both hit that shot with a modern-day mix of power and topspin. Ruud’s forehand is more consistent and versatile than Khachanov, who uses an extreme Western grip that can make him vulnerable to slice and low shots. But as Khachanov showed against Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals, he makes up for that with his serve and two-handed backhand, which is a reliable rally shot and a weapon—especially on returns and passes—when he needs it to be.
Ruud and Khachanov should both feel confident after their somewhat surprising quarterfinal finals: Ruud’s came in straight sets over Mattero Berrettini, Khachanov’s in five over Kyrgios. Judging by their head-to-head and current form, this match seems like a 50-50 pick. But Ruud has been to this stage of a major once before and succeeded, so I’m going to guess that will help him enough to make a difference in the outcome. Winner: Ruud
Carlos Alcaraz vs. Frances Tiafoe
Here we come to the main event. Tiafoe and Alcaraz have lit up this Open, and injected a new, youthful flash and daring to the men’s draw. As far as the future of the ATP goes, the appearance of either of these two in a major final will be a positive development.
So who is more likely to get there? Tiafoe won their only previous meeting, on clay in Barcelona in 2021. But that was a few months before Alcaraz’s game began to take off, and well before Tiafoe’s sudden run of flawlessness in New York. Ranking-wise, Alcaraz has the advantage by 18 spots (No. 4 to No. 22). He has established himself as a Top 5 player for the foreseeable future, while Tiafoe was still a work very much in progress as recently as Cincinnati, where he lost to Seb Korda in the second round.
It will be interesting to see how their games match up, and who can assert more control over the rallies. Alcaraz hits blazingly hard from both sides, but throughout the tournament Tiafoe has been able to construct points that put him in an offensive position. Each is among the fastest players in the sport, but Alcaraz may have an advantage defensively; his ability to track just about any ball down is out of this world. Alcaraz also has the better drop shot, but Tiafoe is a creative player whose hands at net seem to be improving match by match..
“Either guy is going to be tough,” Tiafoe said when he was asked who he would rather face, Alcaraz or the man he beat in the quarterfinals, Jannik Sinner. “They’re both great players. I just hope they play a marathon match, super-long match, and they get really tired come Friday.”
Tiafoe got his wish on the first part; Alcaraz and Sinner did indeed play a marathon, five-hour match that didn’t end until nearly 3:00 a.m., the latest finish in Open history. But does that mean the 19-year-old will be “really tired” on Friday afternoon? I have my doubts.
Still, I’ll take Tiafoe anyway, not because of anything physical, but because he has looked more sure of himself in the big moments so far. And moments for young players don’t come any bigger than this one. Winner: Tiafoe