Carlos Alcaraz-Frances Tiafoe has shot to be rivalry for ages

The US Open’s farewell gala for Serena Williams has evolved into a coming-out party for Carlos Alcaraz.

Youth is being served.

The 19-year-old Spaniard took out Frances Tiafoe 6-7 (8), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7, 6-3 on Friday night in a wildly entertaining match that featured a four hour and 17 minute display of dazzling shot-making, inspired play at net, a bevy of drop shots, angled slices at net and powerful winners from the baseline.

Tennis is alive and well.

This one had everything, Tiafoe saved match point while serving at 4-5 of the 10th game of the fourth set before taking his second tiebreak of the night to run his tournament mark to 8-0. These guys ran all night and tracked down just about everything.

The fact is, they not only tracked down just about everything, but also they created brilliant shots when they got there. The whole reservations thing, you know. And while Tiafoe did get to just about everything, Alcaraz repeatedly got to balls even when that seemed a physical impossibility.

And then Alcaraz hit winners, such as the lob that kissed the baseline after running a mile to set up the teenager with triple match point in the final game.

No wonder Yogi Laver once said that points are not over until they are over when Alcaraz is on court.

Carlos Alcaraz, left, greets Frances Tiafoe after their thrilling match.
Carlos Alcaraz, left, greets Frances Tiafoe after their thrilling match.
Larry Marano

As his reward, Alcaraz advances to the final on Sunday against Norway’s Casper Ruud, who defeated Karen Khachanov in a rather humdrum four-set affair Friday afternoon to advance to his second Grand Slam final of the season. Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Rafa Nadal at the French Open.

There is more than the US Open championship at stake. The winner of the final will ascend to No. 1 in the ATP world ranking. If it is Alcaraz, long ago dubbed “The Next Nadal,” he would be the youngest man to ever hold that No. 1 spot since the inception of the rankings in 1973. And he would be the youngest man to win the Open since Pete Sampras won at age 19 in 1990.

Tiafoe, meanwhile, played one of the best matches of his life following a breakout tournament in which he took out the original Nadal in the Round of 16 and then backed that up with a straight-sets quarterfinal victory over Andrey Rublev.

He became the first American to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Andy Roddick was beaten in a 16-14 fifth set by Roger Federer in the 2009 Wimbledon final and the first to reach one at the US Open since Roddick in 2006.

And so there will be at least a full year of turning the pages of the calendar until the American men can end their unbearable drought. And Tiafoe, who after thudding a ball into the net to end the match, embraced Alcaraz in a heartfelt, extended congratulatory hug, pledged to do just that after apologizing to the fans for letting them down.

“I gave everything I had. Carlos, you were too good,” Tiafoe said in an on-court interview. “I came here to win the US Open and I feel like I let you guys down.”

(Accompanying soundtrack: “NO!”)

Frances Tiafoe reacts after losing.
Frances Tiafoe reacts after losing.

“I will come back and win this thing one day,” the 24-year-old said. “Sorry guys.”

There was nothing for which to apologize, nothing for which to be sorry. Tiafoe pushed Alcaraz to the limit… except that this Spaniard doesn’t seem to have one. Because it’s one thing to be young, one thing to have 19-year-old legs, and another to persevere in a match of 4:17 after being on the court for 9 hours and 9 minutes in his previous two matches the previous four days and nights.

That included Wednesday’s 5:15 quarterfinal victory over Jannik Sinner, which ended at 2:50 am Thursday. Earlier, Alcaraz had gotten off the court at 2:23 am following his Round of 16 victory over Marin Cilic.

Carlos Alcaraz salutes the crowd after his win.
Carlos Alcaraz salutes the crowd after his win.
Larry Marano

Sleep, apparently, is overrated.

By the way, this was not necessarily a hometown crowd for Tiafoe. There were dueling intermittent sing-song chants, alternating with “Let’s Go Carlos!” and “Let’s Go Frances!” The atmosphere matched the entertainment. This was one to remember.

Dozens of players get to the semis of a slam and are never heard from again. It is, of course, on Tiafoe to take this experience and transform the fortnight into a stepping stone for future deep runs at a Grand Slam and at this Open, which he has now vowed to win.

And if he can do that, we just might have a rivalry for the ages. Alcaraz will be in his way, just as Jimmy Connors was once in John McEnroe’s way and Andre Agassi was once in Pete Sampras’ way and then Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Nadal were in everybody else’s way.

So it will be on Tiafoe to chase Alcaraz to the ends of the earth, if necessary. Catching him will be something else altogether, but dang, won’t it be fun watching him try?


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