American tennis fans should take heart: their 19-year-old prodigy Frances Tiafoe caused the GOAT some woe, at least for a little while. Tiafoe, who is creeping closer to a breakout victory over a top player, took Roger Federer to a first-set tiebreak in their second-round match at the Miami Open before falling 7-6(2), 6-3. The final result came as no surprise given Federer’s form lately, but Tiafoe can take solace in the way he got there. For example: he opened the second set by breaking Federer’s serve, a feat that opponents managed only once in his six matches at Indian Wells.
How did the teen manage that? He can thank groundstrokes big enough to shake even smooth-moving Fed off his rhythm. There aren’t that many shots in the game that can persuade Roger to just bow his head and give up on the point, watching the ball hiss by, but Tiafoe’s forehand qualifies as one of them. “He’s got big shots,” said Federer after the match, paying respect to the blunt pace and spin produced by the kid’s waywardly looped forehand stroke. His backhand is less flamboyant but equally potent tool, and might be a little more consistent, too:
Sometimes he makes you wonder about his shot selection, but Tiafoe has plenty of time to polish the nuances of point construction, and clearly has the basic firepower needed to keep up at the next level. Federer, for his part, was not giving him much to work with, clipping the net cord on a perfect SABR—that’s Sneak Attack By Roger, for the uninitiated—and slicing up this passing shot at over 4,000 rotations per minute.
Federer faces Juan Martin del Potro in the next round, in an hour.
Tiafoe’s demise aside, a surprising number of Americans remain alive in the fourth round. Jack Sock caught some good luck after his compelling matchup against Yoshihito Nishioka was cut short by injury: Nishioka had to retire with a bum knee after going up 4-2 in the first set. Sock beat Jiri Vesely easily and will next face countryman Jared Donaldson, a qualifier who luckily slid ahead after third-seed Milos Raonic’s withdrawal from Miami. Also still kicking is Donald Young, the faded golden boy who, at 27, is no longer very young, but still enjoying a hot streak against French opponents, knocking out Lucas Pouille in the second straight tournament and then beating a revitalized Benoit Paire in straight sets. There’s no chance an American actually wins this title, but thus far they’re putting on a good show on the lurid purple hardcourt of Miami.