Frances Tiafoe has already earned his place among the greats—in terms of tennis celebrations, that is. This is right on par with the sleeveless Nadal’s chugga-chugga-chugga juggernaut move. Tiafoe took a five-setter to make the fourth round of a major for the first time in his young life, so by all means, he can celebrate like LeBron James after 37-12-7 and the dagger. Borrow the move.
Tiafoe was down two sets to one to Andreas Seppi, a 34-year-old Italian journeyman with a history of pulverizing consistency. Credit where it’s due: a comment articulated my vague dread about this matchup with perfect clarity. The 20-year-old has a handful of flashy wins against touted opponents, but he has a less convincing track record of easing through a tournament, breaking down all the straightforward grinders that largely populate the tour. That’s mostly what being an elite tennis player is, anyway: fending off Guys, every single week of the unending season, and then, on occasion, out-punching the giants once you get there. Most of the labor will never make it to a national broadcast. Seppi, who has gnashed through 13 five-setters at the Australian Open in his long career, is a Guy nonpareil.
Let’s go to the decisive moment. Tiafoe is down in the match but up a break in the fourth set, but even here he’s about to lose his edge. He’s shanked several straight errors to fall 0-40, and he’s going a little hangdog in the shoulders. One more mishit forehand and they might be headed to a tiebreak like the one the Italian won in the first set. Tiafoe serves a choppy ball out wide, but Seppi is all over it. As usual Seppi’s not doing anything too saucy—besides that absurd behind-the-back flick—he’s just playing the ball back into the middle of the court, prodding away, fully expecting Tiafoe to burp up his fourth error in this game. What happens instead is glorious:
After that, Tiafoe begins to crank the forehand with a familiar flamboyance. He summons two leaping kick serves: one to nix the last break point, then another claim his own set point. Suddenly, they’re off to a fifth set. There Tiafoe breaks immediately, and the forehands start to whip a little more friskily still, and the net approaches start to look more poised and lethal. He remembers he owns more weapons than this Guy, and he lets them rip.
Soon enough Tiafoe’s ripping off his shirt, pounding his chest, hollering, “How bad do you fuckin’ want it?” A few minutes later, with his blood settling down to a simmer and an interviewer’s microphone in his face: “I want it real bad, and I want it now.”