Friday January 27th, 2023 6:58PM

Tiafoe beats Rublev; 1st US man in US Open SF in 16 years

By The Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — Frances Tiafoe became the first American man to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since 2006 by beating Andrey Rublev 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4 behind the backing of a boisterous partisan crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old Tiafoe, who grew up in Maryland, put on a performance just as strong, if not stronger, than the one he used to eliminate 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round.

“Man, man, this is wild. This is crazy. Had the biggest win of my life 24 hours ago. ... That’s huge growth. it’s tough to turn the page,” said Tiafoe, who is seeded 22nd at Flushing Meadows.

Then, looking ahead, and making sure everyone knows this big milestone is not enough to satisfy him, Tiafoe said: “Let’s enjoy this one. We've got two more, guys. We've got two more.”

Andy Roddick was the last U.S. man to get to the semifinals in New York, when he lost to Roger Fededer in the title match 16 years ago. Roddick also was the last man from the country to win any Grand Slam singles championship, taking the 2003 U.S. Open.

Tiafoe’s first career Grand Slam semifinal will come Friday against No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz or No. 11 Jannik Sinner.

Tiafoe played aggressive, offensive tennis and used 18 aces along with strong volleying to oust No. 9 Rublev, a Russian who dropped to 0-6 in major quarterfinals. Tiafoe won 31 of 41 points when he went to the net; Rublev only ventured forward 11 times.

In the women's quarterfinals Wednesday, No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka earned a second consecutive trip to the final four at Flushing Meadows with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over Karolina Pliskova.

“I’m ready for it,” Sabalenka said. “I’m ready for another fight.”

Sabalenka's next opponent will be No. 1 Iga Swiatek or No. 8 Jessica Pegula, who were scheduled to play each other Wednesday night.

Pegula is the last player from the United States in the women's bracket.

Rain drops began falling just before the start of Tiafoe vs. Rublev, so they stood around waiting for the retractable roof to be shut. That resulted in both a cool, wind-free environment and a louder setting, with applause and yells from fans reverberating in what became an indoor arena — circumstances that favored Tiafoe.

The match featured dominant serving by both — the only break of serve came more than two hours in, when Tiafoe went ahead 4-3 in the third set, then stood mostly motionless on court, enjoying the reaction from the stadium — and the most vital moments were the two tiebreakers.

Tiafoe is now 6-0 in tiebreakers at this U.S. Open. He excelled at that stage against Rublev, playing to the spectators and enjoying the crescendos of cheers that mirrored the way he lifted his performance.

Rublev actually had the first chance to nose ahead, with a set point at 6-5 in the first, but Tiafoe erased it with a risky forehand to a corner that drew a netted reply.

Several minutes later, it was Tiafoe who took the set, sealing it with a 130 mph ace, then strutting to the changeover, nodding and motioning with his racket for more noise. The audience obliged, included Tiafoe’s pal, Washington Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal, from his front-row seat.

A similar scene played out in the second tiebreaker after a drop volley by Tiafoe forced a mistake by Rublev to make it 6-0.

When Tiafoe produced a backhand return winner to seal a two-set lead, he sprinted to the sideline, sat down near his messy collection of towels, shirts and socks spread out around the ground — call it “college dorm room chic” — and shook his fist amid the delirium of a standing ovation.

Tiafoe is definitely a showman. He demonstrated that against Nadal, then again against Rublev, who never tried to hide his anger at the way things were going.

Rublev would hit himself in the leg with his racket or punched his strings. Over and over, he gesticulated and yelled toward his guest box, where only four of the 15 seats were occupied, quite a contrast to Tiafoe’s packed section.

“I feel so at home on courts like this,” Tiafoe told the crowd. “You guys get behind me, I want to play my best.”


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