NEW YORK (AP) — There was not much drama involved in Frances Tiafoe’s second-round victory at the U.S. Open on Wednesday night. He quickly grabbed a lead and never let go. He only faced one break point — and saved it. He volleyed terrifically. His outmatched opponent needed some help from a trainer for a bothersome neck.
And you couldn’t escape the feeling that the 10th-seeded Tiafoe was having the time of his life. This is where he wants to be, no matter the details of the match. Under the lights at a Grand Slam tournament, absorbing the attention of thousands of folks in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands and reciprocating the love while getting past Sebastian Ofner of Austria 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in a tad more than 1 1/2 hours.
“I love it. I love it. I love all of it. I love the 1-on-1 battle. You’re putting your heart on the line. Everyone’s there to watch you and one other guy. You’re competing like crazy. Everyone’s anticipating the match. And it’s like, ‘Who wants it more?’” Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland, said during an interview before the U.S. Open. “If you don’t love that, it’s the wrong sport for you. I just absolutely love being in those positions and those atmospheres.”
He knew this was Ofner’s U.S. Open debut and said after Wednesday’s encounter that he wanted to use “the environment to my advantage.”
Tiafoe took a step forward on a day two highly seeded men exited on his half of the draw: No. 5 Casper Ruud, last year’s runner-up, and No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas. With No. 4 Holger Rune out in the first round, three of the tournament’s top seven men already are gone.
A year ago at Flushing Meadows, Tiafoe’s career changed and his life did, too. He beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round along the way to reaching the semifinals of a major for the first time, then pushing eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz to the limit before bowing out.
All the way, the fans — including some well-known ones, such as former first lady Michelle Obama and NBA All-Star Bradley Beal — showered Tiafoe with affection. And he certainly enjoyed basking in that adulation and the extra attention that came with his higher profile, including a role in the Netflix docuseries about tennis, “Break Point.”
“I’m totally cool with putting myself fully out there and seeing what happens. Let the chips fall where they may. I love feeling the crowd with me. Everyone paid their hard-earned money to come watch. So I want them to enjoy,” said Tiafoe, who went over to the stands to greet rapper Pusha T, a guest of his, after the triumph over Ofner. “And also, I want to win.”
Next up for Tiafoe is No. 22 Adrian Mannarino of France, who produced one wild on-the-run ‘tweener during his win Wednesday.
“He’s very tricky. He’s got an unorthodox game style,” Tiafoe said. “I’m ready. I’m ready for him.”
Tiafoe is part of a crop of American men in their 20s who have been steadily moving up the rankings and starting to show signs of threatening for major championships. Andy Roddick was the last man from the country to earn a Grand Slam trophy, at the U.S. Open 20 years ago.
Three other U.S. men joining Tiafoe in the third round with victories were No. 9 Taylor Fritz; No. 14 Tommy Paul, an Australian Open semifinalist in January who collected his first career comeback from two sets down to beat Roman Safiullin 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3; and Ben Shelton, who advanced when 2020 champion Dominic Thiem stopped playing in the second set after being visited by a physiotherapist.
“After the second (set), it wasn’t super pretty on my end. He was definitely playing more aggressive tennis than I was, making me feel super uncomfortable,” Paul said. “I knew I had to change that.”
Another man from the United States, No. 28 Chris Eubanks, lost in four sets to Benjamin Bonzi of France.
“We all grew up together. We know each other so well. American tennis is in a great place,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we keep going and hopefully we end that streak.”
His win was followed in Ashe by 2018 Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki’s 7-5, 7-6 (5) victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Wozniacki recently came out of retirement after 3 1/2 years away from the game.
In earlier action Wednesday, defending champion Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff remained on course for a quarterfinal showdown with straight-set victories, while 23-time major champ Novak Djokovic also had little trouble moving into the third round.
But Ruud, who lost to Alcaraz in last year’s final in New York and also was the runner-up at the French Open in 2022 and 2023, was beaten by Zhang Zhizhen of China 6-4, 5-7, 7-2, 0-6, 6-2.
And Tsitsipas, a two-time Slam finalist never past the third round in New York, was eliminated by 128th-ranked Swiss qualifier Dominic Stricker 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (5) 7-6 (6), 6-3.
“I consider myself a good player, and I don’t want to be a person that can be beaten easily or (give) my opponents an easy time on the court against me,” said Tsitsipas, who served for the win at 5-3 in the fourth set. “I try to make it as hard as I can, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. I move on with my life.”
AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis