Felix Auger-Aliassime had all the answers to Frances Tiafoe
How the Canadian rode a 24-ace performance to his second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Felix Auger-Aliassime’s 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-4 win over Frances Tiafoe at the US Open on Sunday night felt like one long question-and-answer session. Tiafoe asked the questions, and Auger Aliassime had the answer. Every time.
Coming in, knowing that the match was first up in the evening session, I had expected Auger-Aliassime to jump out to an early lead, and Tiafoe to slowly find his bearings as the crowd filed in—the American typically gets better the more balls he hits, and the more the audience responds. But the opposite happened. The spectators were on time, and so was Tiafoe’s game. He broke to start the match, and held out for the first set from there. Eight times Auger-Aliassime reached break point, and eight times Tiafoe saved it.
“I had a lot of nerves,” Auger-Aliassime said of the way he started. Afterward, he jokingly congratulated the fans in Ashe for throwing him off.
But he didn’t stay off for long. At the time, those eight break points saved seemed like a testament to Tiafoe’s clutch play. In retrospect, they were a sign that a dam was about to break.
Auger-Aliassime finally broke through with Tiafoe serving at 2-3 in the second set. Tiafoe double faulted and put a forehand into the net, and Auger Aliassime closed the game with a forehand winner. From then on, the Canadian always seemed to be hitting off his front foot, while Tiafoe was retreating. The difference was most obvious on the serve: FAA had 24 aces, Tiafoe had 10; FAA won 84 percent of his first-serve points, Tiafoe won 71. Whether it was because he was standing too close to the baseline, or trying to go too big on his returns—both theories made the rounds on Twitter—Tiafoe never forced Auger-Aliassime to feel any pressure on his serve. After the first game, he didn’t break him again, and he had only five break points compared to 15 for FAA.
That doesn’t mean Tiafoe didn’t put Auger-Aliassime to the test in other ways. Over and over, the American fired what looked to be passing-shot winners, only to see the Canadian reach out and cut them off for volley winners. Other times, Tiafoe sent rocket returns at FAA’s feet, only to see him short-hop it back into the open court. When Tiafoe went up 0-40 in one of Auger-Aliassime’s service games, FAA stamped out the threat with his customary measured, aggressive play. He finished with 56 winners to 41 for Tiafoe.
The biggest test came in the third set, when Tiafoe found a second wind. At 4-5, Tiafoe saved two set points; after he held, he brought the crowd to its feet with a dramatic fist-pump. Yet FAA had the answers again. First he held at love with a series of powerful winners for 6-5. Then he saved a set point at 5-6 in the tiebreaker with a service winner. Then he closed out that all-important set with a forehand return that again had Tiafoe on his back foot.
“The third set was almost a coin toss,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I did think I had what it took to win it.”
That last phrase says a lot: Deep down, despite the pressure of the crowd and the opponent, Auger-Aliassime felt like the set and the match were his to win. And he still must have felt that way in the last game of the match. Serving for it at 5-4, FAA made a couple of nervous errors, but he had the answers again—an ace to reach match point, and a forehand to close it out.
Auger Aliassime, 21, reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon in July; now he’s made it two in a row. This time he had Toni Nadal in his coaching box, and after the match FAA sounded a little like Toni’s famous nephew when he talked about missing an easy forehand at set point in the third set.
“Sometimes things don’t go your way,” he said. “You gotta accept it.”
Accepting, enduring, staying in the moment: Does that remind you of anyone’s philosophy? It’s one that Toni Nadal drove deep into Rafa’s brain, and the level-headed FAA also seems uniquely suited to its psychological rigors.
Finally, this was a match played by two sons of African immigrant parents. Tiafoe’s mother and father, Frances Sr., and Alphina Kamara, came to the U.S. from Sierra Leone; Auger Aliassime’s father, Sam, came from Togo to Canada. This fact wasn’t a major part of the discussion surrounding the match, but it’s still something worth remembering and celebrating. Auger-Aliassime made sure to note it afterward.
“I hope this inspires kids all around the world,” he said.
He’ll keep inspiring them in New York, when he takes on Carlos Alcaraz in the quarters.