August 20, 2022

Placeholder while loading article actions

WIMBLEDON, England — A huge opportunity had presented itself just ahead and then dissolved, so it felt like one of those endings was so heartbreaking that the non-winner might have wished technology had stopped to VHS so he can take the tape and burn it in a cathartic ceremony.

Then Frances Tiafoe reached the interview room and seemed a notch more buoyant than disappointed. He was certain of his continued ascent. He fielded questions about his rarefied sense of humor on the pitch. He came across as the perfectly 24-year-old – a veteran of the tour and a pup in the tennis years at the same time.

Plus, he had just starred in a doozy on Court No. 2.

“Just one hell of a battle,” he said.

On the Hyattsville kid’s career arc, Tiafoe’s 4 hour 36 minute, 403 point fight with Belgium’s David Goffin in the Wimbledon Round of 16 on Sunday could have been a big step on a key bridge in a sport where far-reaching achievements occur in narrow passages. It could have given him a second place in the Grand Slam quarter-finals and his first since the Australian Open 2019. It could have given him a real chance in a first Grand Slam semi-final, maybe on center court against Novak Djokovic.

Instead, unseeded Goffin’s 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win could serve as something else for 23rd-seeded Tiafoe : a new emblem to be up there. somewhere. “The level of tennis was, I mean, top 10, easy,” Tiafoe said. “Hitting ridiculous shots, both of you.”

So this time in the fourth set, he served at 4-5 and saved three set points, then got three game points, then fell to a double fault and a forehand scored from a rally of 17 blows…

And this time in the fifth set where he came back to 5-5 and saw two break points at 15-40 then suffered ace, service winner, service winner, service winner…

The possibility of an all-American quarter-final between Tiafoe and Tommy Paul, before the two lost on Sunday and Paul said after losing in straight sets to Cameron Norrie: “Our side of the draw was pretty open; I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone…

It might be good not to burn it all down, especially considering how good Tiafoe is in the middle of a combat masterpiece.

“We definitely left it there on the pitch,” he said at one point.

“The gatherings were crazy; the level was crazy,” he told another.

It’s clear after 25 Grand Slam entries that Tiafoe aspires to the next echelon, which would be a routine presence in the second weeks of the major brackets. He said it the other day: “I want more. He participated in four fourth rounds, winning one. In a sport with one staggering generation slowly giving way to the next – unless, say, Djokovic continues to win well into his 50s – and where an even younger duo had their peak on center court on Sunday (the Italian sensation 20-year-old Jannik Sinner beat 19-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz in four sets), maybe it’s time for Tiafoe to step up and start moving forward a bit deeper into the fortnights.

That’s why this one could be called agony but for now he said he might even see the game again in a few days, might even see the kindnesses between the 28th ranked player (Tiafoe) and the 58th ranked player. (Goffin), who also met in the second round of Roland-Garros, a victory in four sets for the Belgian.

“You like him much more afterwards, don’t you?” said Tiafoe. “Meanwhile, you’re just trying to do everything in your power to try and get a win. I haven’t even really processed what just happened. I just played five brutal sets. Crazy rallies, running around. Yeah, probably in a couple of days, maybe if I watch the game back or whatever, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah, man, that was crazy to be a part of.’ ”

For now: “I’m going to be in a lot of pain tomorrow.”

Chosen words and bizarre antics mark wacky men’s night out at Wimbledon

“The atmosphere on this ground was incredible,” said Goffin, a 31-year-old who advanced to a fourth major quarter-final. “You have players that are always nice to play against – not because of the game or anything like that, but just because there’s always a good atmosphere on the pitch with the opponent, and also that the crowd like that. It was the case today with Frances. We gave it our all on the court. … So, yes, it’s a great memory on this court.

It had weight but also humor, showcasing Tiafoe’s useful talent for the latter. After an early chase, he shook hands with a bystander.

“He gives a nice formal handshake,” Tiafoe said. “I thought it was funny. … It calmed me down. After that, it was war.

After another chase later, in the fourth set, he found himself next to a linesman, so he kind of just leaned into her and then ended up hugging her.

“I see the lady, I went to the lady, also tired, so I just hugged the lady,” he said. “Hit hard all the way [just before that], too. She laughed it off. »

After sending a fourth-set serve so far it looked like it was over the baseline – ‘the worst serve I’ve ever hit in my life,’ he said – he did something more subtle: he briefly raised his racquet as if to defy the line call.

“Yeah, I really wish I had,” he said of the challenge. “That would have been hilarious. I think the whole crowd would have laughed.

Those things can help when things go so long that, as Tiafoe said, “It felt like we were on clay at one point, the rallies were so long. I was like, ‘It’s okay against the goal of the season on grass!’ ”

Technically, he lost.

“It’s definitely going to sting,” he said. “All in all, a good opportunity for a lot of guys. I was hoping Tommy and I could both win, play the quarterfinals, but unfortunately we both lost. Yeah, it was an opportunity for a lot of guys to try to go further in the Slam. … In the end, I played good tennis, so it’s not something I can dwell on or feel sorry for.