Frances Tiafoe ended the 2020 season much better than how he started it. The 22-year-old advanced to the semifinals at the ATP 250 event in Nur-Sultan shortly after taking home the Parma Challenger event in October. In his first event of the 2021 season at the Delray Beach Open, Tiafoe appears to be riding that same wave of momentum.
It wasn't the easiest day at the office for Tiafoe as he stood across the net from Bjorn Fratangelo. The world No. 274 was a sizeable underdog heading into Sunday's encounter, but gave Tiafoe a run for his money before fading late. Tiafoe secured a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory after one hour and 50 minutes.
Fratangelo managed to open a 4-2 lead, but Tiafoe glided around the court empty of concerns. With his unbothered attitude and confidence bursting through every forehand, Tiafoe had no problem turning the first set around in his favor.
"The higher ranked player is going to have less space between their peaks and valleys, their average level is going to be a little bit closer. Or as when Bjorn plays well he plays well, but when he is a little bit off it drops lower than when Frances is a little bit off," Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone said.
Annacone's assessment clearly showed during the all-American showdown. While Fratangelo came up with some unbelievable shots and hustled down balls, the 27-year-old battled to sustain the level of play needed to take down the 2018 champion. Feeling the pressure to come up with bigger shots, Fratangelo's trigger often fired too soon, leading to patches of unforced errors.
In the second set, Fratangelo's adjustments on second serve was a key factor in evening the contest. His consistency and power made it harder for Tiafoe to dictate points. Once the set break arrived, a turn of events soon unfolded.
Tiafoe went over the allotted changeover time when putting on a fresh set of wristbands. Fratangelo, who stood with his hands on his hips waiting to return serve, became frustrated with each passing second. Tiafoe was given a time-violation warning, but Fratangelo's dissatisfaction seemed to cause a dip in his focus.
Tiafoe quickly surged to a 5-0 lead, and was just a couple points away from sealing his first bagel set in three years. In the end, the world No. 62 settled for a toasty breadstick to finish off Fratangelo to take their first tour-level meeting.
The eighth seed has now advanced to three quarterfinals in his past four Delray Beach appearances. He awaits the winner between Cameron Norrie and Adrian Mannarino.