At The U.S. Open, Frances Tiafoe Picks Up Where He Left Off

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Benton was at Tiafoe’s match on Monday and has been in contact with him over the summer.

“He’s a little —” Benton paused and with his arms imitated someone who was experiencing the inevitable weight of expectations, the biggest of which are those Tiafoe has set for himself. “In some ways all he can do is disappoint.”

As well as the season has gone for Tiafoe, including wins in tournaments in Houston and Stuttgart, Germany, he has fallen short of his own goals at the most important events. He has lost in the third round at the year’s first three Grand Slam tournaments.

He was downright despondent after he played arguably his worst match of the year in a three-set loss to Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria at Wimbledon on grass, a surface he loves and that would figure to suit his aggressive and creative game.

At heart, Tiafoe, who burst onto the scene in 2019 when he made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and quickly broke into the top 30, is a showman, an entertainer who loves to play off the energy of the crowd. One of the challenges from his earliest years has been figuring out how to do that most effectively.

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A typical Tiafoe sequence occurred Monday during a tight second set against Tien. With the score knotted at 4-4, Tien rose and twisted and snapped a backhand overhead that looked like a certain winner. Tiafoe chased it down and threaded the needle with his shot, zipping it between the umpire’s chair and the net post to set him up for what seemed like a crucial break of Tien’s serve. Then he did his trademark frozen stare into the crowd, his cue for the fans to get loud. They did.

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