MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Frances Tiafoe rolled up his white shirt’s right sleeve, flexed his biceps and slapped the muscle five times. Then he pounded his chest and yelled, “Yeah! Let’s go! Let’s go! Come on!”
Forgive the young American’s exuberance. This was, after all, the biggest victory of his nascent career.
Down a set and losing 3-0 in the second, the 20-year-old Tiafoe came back to stun two-time Grand Slam finalist and No. 5 seed Kevin Anderson 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 on Tuesday in the Australian Open’s second round.
“I went to a different place. I dug insanely deep,” the 39th-ranked Tiafoe said during an on-court interview. “It’s all about competing. Guys are so good. It’s just about how badly you want it. I want it real bad.”
It helped that Anderson’s best attribute, his intimidating serve, slowed down along the way because of problems with his right arm. Anderson was repeatedly visited by a trainer during changeovers and he lost about 5 mph (10 kph) on his first serves as the match wore on.
Anderson was the runner-up at Wimbledon last year and at the U.S. Open in 2017 and had won their three previous matchups.
Tiafoe was joined in the third round by another kid from the U.S. who’d never been that far at Melbourne Park, 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, who saved 12 of the 13 break points he faced while dispatching No. 30 seed Gael Monfils of France 6-3, 6-7 (8-10), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5).
Next for Fritz is a matchup against Roger Federer, the two-time defending champion in Australia and owner of 20 Grand Slam titles.
“I grew up watching a lot of the guys I play today. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Monfils’ highlight reel on YouTube, just growing up. ‘Fed,’ obviously, my whole life growing up, he was always the best, winning everything,” Fritz said. “So it’s really cool being able to step on the court with him again.”
Another 20-something from the U.S. threw a scare into another older, more-accomplished top-10 foe, but Mackenzie McDonald couldn’t match Tiafoe’s upset, losing to No. 6 Marin Cilic 7-5, 6-7 (9-11), 6-4, 6-4.
Cilic beat Kei Nishikori to win the 2014 U.S. Open championship and was the runner-up at Melbourne Park to Roger Federer last year. Against McDonald, who is 23 years old and ranked 81st, Cilic delivered 25 aces, including on each of the last two points.
Federer, seeking a record seventh Australian Open title and third in a row, reached the third round by beating Dan Evans 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
“I couldn’t pull away early in the match,” said Federer, who actually was two points from dropping the opening set.
Japan lost an participant when Yoshihito Nishioka was eliminated by 10th seed Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Nishioka, who was seeking to make his first third-round appearance at a Grand Slam tournament, finished with four aces and 23 winners compared to Khachanov’s 16 aces and 49 winners in the 2-hour, 2-minute match.
“I didn’t play well,” Nishioka said. “I had my chances but I wasn’t able to convert in key moments. I hope to hang in there and keep aiming high.”
In Thursday’s second-round singles action for Japan, No. 8 seed Kei Nishikori will face Ivo Karlovic of Croatia, while Taro Daniel meets Canada’s Denis Shapovalov. Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka’s next opponent on the women’s side is Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia.
In women’s doubles, Nao Hibino and her American partner Desirae Krawczyk defeated 14th-seeded Japanese pairing Miyu Kato and Makoto Ninomiya 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the opening-round.
Kato and Ninomiya, who became the first all-Japan doubles champion at the Toray Pan Pacific Open last September, closed out the first set in 41 minutes, but their combined seven double faults in the second set proved an Achilles heel.
Hibino said she was nervous throughout the two-hour, 16-minute match and the clash was far from easy.
“I was so glad when it ended because it felt so long. We were able to ride the wave of momentum,” Hibino said.
Later, Rafael Nadal set up a third-round showdown against 19-year-old Australian Alex de Minaur with a straight-set victory.
Three-time major champion Angelique Kerber moved on with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia. No. 5 Sloane Stephens opened the day in Rod Laver Arena with a 6-3, 6-1 victory over her junior doubles partner Timea Babos.
Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, reached the third round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2014.
“I’m kind of conquering all the places where I’ve been terrible,” Stephens said.
Four seeded women were sent home, including No. 24 Lesia Tsurenko, a 6-0, 6-2 loser against 17-year-old American Amanda Anisimova. No. 9 Kiki Bertens, No. 20 Anett Kontaveit and No. 29 Donna Vekic also exited. Vekic lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 to Kimberly Birrell, a 20-year-old Australian ranked 240th who got into the field as a wild card.
“It is so surreal,” Birrell said. “That was just such a blur. I get to play again. It’s crazy.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5