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Frances Tiafoe makes U.S. Open semifinals, ends American men’s drought

Frances Tiafoe

USA’s Frances Tiafoe reacts while playing Russia’s Andrey Rublev during their 2022 US Open Tennis tournament men’s singles quarter-final match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, on September 7, 2022. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR / AFP) (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Frances Tiafoe beat Andrey Rublev to become the first American man to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2006.

Tiafoe, a 24-year-old ranked 26th in the world, took out the 11th-ranked Russian Rublev 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4 for his best run ever in a Grand Slam tournament.

The victory came two days after Tiafoe ousted 22-time major champion Rafael Nadal, becoming the first American born in 1988 or later to beat Nadal, Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer at a Slam.

“Had the biggest win of my life 24 hours ago, and coming out and getting another big win -- Andrey’s a hell of a player -- to back it up, that’s huge growth,” he said.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men

Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone who as a kid slept at the tennis center where his dad was a janitor, gets fourth-ranked Carlos Alcaraz of Spain or 13th-ranked Jannik Sinner of Italy in Friday’s semifinals.

“Hopefully there will be a movie about [Tiafoe’s life story] one day,” said his coach since 2020, former world No. 6 Wayne Ferreira of South Africa. “But he has to win the Grand Slam first. You only get movies if you do well.

“I kind of imagine he would be at his best by the end of next year would be a timeline that would be suitable for the growth he needs to do.”

In a post-match, on-court interview, Tiafoe encouraged the crowd to enjoy this victory, but “we’ve got two more [matches to win], guys.”

“Everyone loves a Cinderella story,” he said later. “Just trying to make one.”

Since Roddick was runner-up at the 2006 U.S. Open, four different American men combined to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals seven times, all of them losing, before Tiafoe this year. Tiafoe is the first American man to reach the semifinals of any Slam since John Isner at 2018 Wimbledon.

The last U.S. man to make a major final was Roddick at 2009 Wimbledon. Roddick was also the last U.S. man to win a major at the 2003 U.S. Open. Both of those droughts are by far the longest in U.S. men’s tennis in history.

Coupled with Jessica Pegula’s loss later Wednesday, Tiafoe’s run marks the first time in 44 majors that the best U.S. singles result outright is by a man.

“I just so happen to be the guy doing the run right now,” Tiafoe said, noting recent improvements from 24-year-old Taylor Fritz (Indian Wells champion, Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year) and 25-year-olds Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul. “I’m sure come next year in the Slams, they will be doing just exactly the same. Everyone is super capable. American tennis is in a great place.

“We are all starting to really get into our primes, and we will see where that takes us.”

Tiafoe made more history, becoming the first Black American man to reach a U.S. Open semifinal since Arthur Ashe, whose name adorns the court on which Tiafoe triumphed Wednesday.

“At the end of the day I love that because of Frances Tiafoe there is a lot of people of color playing tennis,” he said. “That’s obviously a goal for me. That’s why I’m out here trying pretty hard.”

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