In a markedly soft U.S. Open field—no Novak Djokovic, no Stan Wawrinka, no Andy Murray—third-ranked Roger Federer was brought to the brink in the very first round by unseeded 19-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who took him five sets deep tonight.
Federer has never lost in the first round of the open before, but Tiafoe threatened that pretty damn seriously. After dropping the first set, 6-4, Federer regained control with a dominant second and third, winning 6-2 and 6-1, respectively. But then he started to lose his footing—plagued by unforced errors and otherwise unable to stop Tiafoe. The Maryland teen ran away with the fourth set, going up 2-1 before breezing to an easy 6-1 win. And the fifth was when things really got interesting.
Federer managed to break Tiafoe to go up 3-1, and the pair traded games holding serve until Federer was up 5-3 and serving to finish things up. At 30-30, he got himself to match point with an ace down the T that needed replay review to be confirmed. But his first match point ended in an unforced error—and the next point ended that way, too, giving the advantage to Tiafoe. A Federer ace later, Tiafoe pulled back ahead on a ridiculous cross-court shot that Federer had no chance at returning. And a few moments later, the teen had broken Federer, making it 5-4 in the fifth set.
Unfortunately for Tiafoe, his heroics ended there, as he dropped the first two points of the next game on his own serve to Federer and didn’t recover, allowing him to take the fifth set 6-4 for the victory. Federer made plenty of his own mistakes here—56 unforced errors, compared to 49 by Tiafoe—but to chalk it up to an off night for the five-time U.S. Open champion is to do the 19-year-old a disservice. This was largely a legitimately competitive match, fun as hell on the big stage of Arthur Ashe Stadium at night, and one that gave some serious credence to Tiafoe’s hype as a potential future star for American tennis.