Carlos Alcaraz beats Frances Tiafoe in five-set thriller to reach US Open final – The Guardian

Carlos Alcaraz is one win away from a maiden grand slam title – and the world No 1 ranking – after outlasting Frances Tiafoe of the United States in a thrilling five-set US Open semi-final on Friday night.

The 19-year-old Spaniard and sensitive highlight reel, whose sublime shot-making and dogged hustle saw him billed as the new face of the sport, came from behind in 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 thriller to book a place in Sunday’s final against fifth-seeded Casper Ruud, who fought past Karen Khachanov in the first semi-final of the day.

Against a home opponent full of confidence and the crackling atmosphere of nearly 24,000 spectators almost entirely in the American’s corner, Alvarez conjured up his best tennis in one pressure moment after another with composure and nerve beyond his years, ending the American’s deepest run. man at the US Open since Andy Roddick reached the 2006 final and further building his reputation as the best teenager in men’s tennis since Rafael Nadal nearly two decades ago.

For more than four hours Alcaraz and Tiafoe traded hellfire in physical baseline rallies and tested their range of motion to the limit in dazzling cat-and-mouse exchanges that covered every inch of the court. But it was Alcaraz, the No. 3 seed, whose previous two matches in this tournament lasted nearly 10 hours and each ended well past 2 a.m. local time, who made the final kick of a champion by winning four of the last five games after holding match point in. the fourth

Tiafoe, 24, of Hyattsville, Maryland, seeded 22nd, was the first American man to reach the last four at his home slam since Roddick and bid to become the first black American man to reach a major final since MaliVai Washington . at Wimbledon in 1996.

“Too good from Carlos tonight,” Tiafoe said afterward, wiping away tears. “I gave it everything I’ve got tonight and I’ve given it everything I’ve had for the last two weeks. I came here to win the US Open and I feel like I let everyone down. It really hurts. I will come back and I will win this thing one day.”

The first set unfolded on even terms for the opening half hour, as the players traded thunderous groundstrokes clocked at more than 100 mph, the burning tension building with each successive hold. Tiafoe survived the first test in the seventh game, holding from a double break point down, then again in the next service game, holding from 15-30 with a cracking ace and a volley.

Then it was Alcaraz’s turn to falter, only to escape a 4-5, 30-40 tie showing a glimpse of the tactical intelligence and advanced point construction he relied on during his breakout season. But after saving a set point to hold at 5-6, then three more in the first-set tiebreak, Alcaraz finally cracked in the fifth with a double fault that gave Tiafoe the opener and fired up the partisan crowd that included Michelle Obama on court.

After trading holds to open the second, Alcaraz faced another drop-control moment serving at 30-all when Tiafoe capped another hyperkinetic rally with a deft backhand volley winner for break point. But Alcaraz coolly brushed it aside with a cheeky drop shot from just inside the baseline, then went on to hold on after getting the best of an outrageous 17-shot rally where both players looked beaten more than once, a sequence that left Tiafoe unable to contain. his laugh as he slumped into his chair during the transition.

Alcaraz held his nerve long enough to earn a long-sought break point opportunity at 2-3, 30-40. Tiafoe saved it with a 136 mph service winner, but the Spaniard grabbed his second chance moments later when Tiafoe overcooked a forehand from the baseline. Even when the second set seemed lost, the American dug in long enough to complicate matters, fighting the kind of mental lapse against elite players that has done him in recent years.

Splitting the opening two sets, both players emerged from off-court bathroom breaks to best of three matches for a place in the final, but Tiafoe’s first extended mental lapse of the night cost him dearly as he was immediately broken at love. open the third. Alcaraz calmly held the break with a love hold to extend a streak of 10 straight points, mixing topspin and spice inside the rallies with greater frequency and wearing Tiafoe down with his shot-making variety. After breaking twice more to close out the third set in a quick 33 minutes without facing a break point, Alcarez pumped his fist at his box as a lull fell over the crowd.

Tiafoe’s spiral continued in the fourth, dragged down in a whirlwind of double faults and unforced errors that left his composure shattered as he lost nine of 10 games. Alcaraz pounced on his weakening foe, pulling him down with drop shots before punishing him with surgical passes. Had it been a boxing match, the referee could have stepped forward to look at things long and hard. And when Tiafoe was broken in his opening service game of the set, the match appeared almost a handshake away.

But Tiafoe somehow beat the count. He broke Alcaraz for the first time all night in the next game to return on serve, fell behind a break again in the very next game, then broke again to send the crowd into deafening roars. After chasing a match point at 4-5 to claw back from the brink, the former First Lady jumped from her courtside seat and pumped her fist as a wall of sound cascaded down from the mezzanine. Before long, Tiafoe forced a fifth and deciding set by winning his eighth tiebreak in as many chances in the tournament, eclipsing Pete Sampras’ previous US Open record of seven from seven.

“It was a difficult moment for me, losing that match [point] that way, making a drop shot that I could finish with a good forehand that I hit pretty well,” Alcaraz said. “I thought it was a new match in the fifth series. I have to stay there playing, playing well, playing my game and believing.”

The crowd was silenced again when Alcaraz struck out to open the fifth. By then, they should have known better when the relentless Tiafoe broke back in the fourth game, pumping his fist as he sprinted to his chair. But from there the American was broken at love in the blink of an eye, double-guilty on a triple breaking point. As the match entered its fifth hour, Alcaraz consolidated the break immediately with a love hold, then ground Tiafoe away with one high-percentage shot after another, crushing the will of his opponent and the gallery until crossing the finish line at five to midnight after. 4 h 19 min.

Already the youngest men’s grand slam semi-finalist since Nadal’s success at the French Open in 2005, Alcaraz becomes only the second teenager to reach a US Open men’s final in the professional era after Pete Sampras in 1990. If he triumphs in Sunday’s final, Alcaraz. will become the youngest ever player to reach number 1 in the ATP world rankings. Tiafoe, whose $1.3 million earnings to reach the semifinals and beat 22-time major champion Nadal along the way offered little consolation in the bitter aftermath, could only tip his hat.

“He’s one of the best players in the world, for sure,” he said. “He is so young. He hits the ball so hard. I’ve never played a guy who moves the way he does, honestly. I saw him get a lot of balls, but I hit some drop volleys that I hit. He comes there. How he is able to stretch points, unbelievable.

“He is very much a player. He’s going to be a problem for a very long time.”

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