NEW YORK — Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe engaged in a high-level, high-energy show from a back-and-forth semifinal at the US Open — no point over when it seemed to be, no ball out of reach, no angle too bold.
One sequence was so filled with “What?! How?!” moments of both men that Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators were on their feet before it was finished and remained there, applauding and carousing, through repetition on the video screens.
Ultimately, enough of the winners went Alcaraz’s way, and too many of the mistakes came off Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who surged into his first Grand Slam final — and, in the process, gave himself a chance to become No. 1 at the age of 19 — ending Tiafoe’s run at Flushing Meadows 6-7 (6) , 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win on Friday night.
“It was so electric. I mean, the tennis definitely matched the hype of the match. Unbelievable shot-making, getting, extending points, crazy shots … in crazy times,” said Tiafoe. “Yes, I was pissed off.”
Alcaraz seemed to seize control by capturing nine of 10 games in one stretch and could have ended the evening when he held match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe, who is 26, kept it up and soon shouted, with some colorful language mixed in for emphasis, “I’m putting my heart on the line!” Shortly after that, Tiafoe forced a fifth set by improving to a US Open record 8–0 in break points.
However, Alcaraz showed no signs of fatigue despite playing a third five-setter in a row, including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal victory that ended at 2:50 a.m. Thursday, the latest finish in tournament history. He was better when he needed to be, taking four of the last five games.
“I feel good now,” Alcaraz said nearly two hours after beating Tiafoe, then added: “I mean, a little tired.”
Now No. 3 Alcaraz will face No. 7 Kasper Ruud for the championship on Sunday with so much on the line: The winner will become a major champion for the first time and lead the rankings next week.
“It’s amazing to be able to fight for great things,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz and Tiafoe both made their major semifinal debuts and offered an exceptionally entertaining performance for just over a set, and just over an hour, at the start, then again for the latter part of the fourth and the start of the. fifth
Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who eliminated a 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sold-out crowd of more than 23,000 that included former First Lady Michelle Obama, often asking for and receiving more noise. No surprise, as he was the first American man in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.
“I feel like I let you down,” Tiafoe said during an unusual opportunity for the loser of a match to address the crowd in an on-court interview. “This one hurts. This one really, really hurts.”
Alcaraz, who is from Spain, is popular around the world, widely recognized as a future star of the sport, and he is now the youngest US Open men’s finalist from any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy aged 19 in 1990 .
When Alcaraz went up 2-0 in the fourth, spectators treated him to a soccer-style chant of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!”
“People love to see that guy play, so they got behind it, too,” Tiafoe said. “Obviously I would have loved to win tonight, but I think tennis won tonight. I think the crowd got what they expected. I just wish I was the one who got the ‘W’.”
Afterwards, Alcaraz spoke first in English, then in Spanish, telling his supporters that they helped him fight for “every point, every ball” and patting his chest as he said it was “for my family, for my team, for me, for all of you.”
There were so many memorable exchanges and scenes between Tiafoe and Alcaraz. One arrived in the third game of the second set, when Alcaraz saved a break point and went on to hold. A laughing Tiafoe jokingly climbed over the net to Alcaraz’s side, as if to go shake hands at the end of a match.
If this semi-final had actually ended right then and there, no one could have complained about the product. It would continue for a total of 4 hours, 19 minutes.
They wore matching shirts — red in the front, white in the back, burgundy on the sides — and were a perfect match for each other for long stretches, including up to 6-all in the opening nugget.
Alcaraz, who by then had already saved four set points, offered a fifth by sending a backhand wide, then made it easy for Tiafoe to convert with a double fault. As the crowd roared, Alcaraz hung his head, walked to his side seat and tapped his equipment bag with his racquet.
He regrouped and broke to go up in the second set, and a pivotal junction arrived with Alcaraz serving at 5-3 but facing a break point. He snapped a crosscourt forehand winner to eliminate that opportunity for Tiafoe, which began a run in which Alcaraz grabbed 11 straight points and 19 of 22 to own that set and a 4-0 lead in the third.
Like on that forehand, Alcaraz often rips the ball with abandon — and, somehow, also accurately, targeting the lines and finding them. He scored at least three first points with shots that caught the outside edge of the white paint with no margin to spare.
After one, Tiafoe went for a somewhat light-hearted exchange with Alcaraz’s trainer, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who was briefly No. 1 himself. Make no mistake, though: Alcaraz is no hanging baseline. He has a varied, all-court game and showed his skills by scoring points with acrobatic volleys, feathered drop shots and perfectly parabolic lo.bs.
Aside from that break in the second and third sets, and late in the fifth, Tiafoe was exceptional, too, and having the time of his life the whole time.
“I’m going to come back,” Tiafoe said, “and I’m going to win this thing one day.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.