Frances Tiafoe played an incredible fifth set to complete a late-night upset of fifth seed Andrey Rublev 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-1 and reach the fourth round of the US Open for the second consecutive year.
The three-hour, 46-minute thriller finished at 2:14 a.m. Saturday morning, making it tied for the fifth-latest finish in US Open history. Tiafoe’s coach, Wayne Ferreira, lost a four-setter against Younes El Aynaoui in the fourth round in 2002, which also finished at 2:14 a.m.
“I love these matches. This is why you work. This is why you put the time in, to play the best guys in the world. These are the matches I get up for,” Tiafoe said in his on-court interview. “I want these guys. I want to put it on my resumé. I came out today and I was like, ‘I’m going to beat him.’ I grew up with this guy, I don’t fear any of these guys. Let’s keep going.”
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A key moment came with Rublev serving at 6/5 in the third-set tie-break. The Russian rushed a second serve and double-faulted, hitting it into the net. That allowed Tiafoe to avoid a two-sets-to-one-deficit, and perhaps more importantly, to send the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd into a frenzy when he closed out the set two points later. The American played to the crowd, and the fans returned the favour with their full support.
Tiafoe let slip a 4-2 advantage in the fourth set, and it appeared a fired-up Rublev would take the momentum into the final set and silence the crowd. But instead Tiafoe, buoyed by constant cheers of “Let’s go, Frances!”, continued to fight into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Few players on the ATP Tour overpower Rublev from the baseline. But that is what the home favourite did in the deciding set, playing his most aggressive tennis when it mattered most. Tiafoe hit 14 winners to Rublev’s four in the final set.
“You guy are the reason I got it done tonight. It was definitely tricky,” Tiafoe, who hit 69 winners in the match, told the crowd. “You guys stuck with me all the way through… you all did it.”
Entering the match, neither man had enjoyed much success in five-setters — Rublev held a 3-5 mark while Tiafoe was 2-10. But Tiafoe showed no disappointment after letting slip his fourth-set lead, earning a showdown against #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, who beat 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 earlier in the evening.
“I’ve lost a lot of five-setters. My five-set record isn’t great. [But] I can’t not bring it,” Tiafoe said. “I’ve lost a lot of tough matches on this court… I wasn’t going to leave this court without a win tonight.”