25 Feb TIA-FOE REAL?
By Steve Dorsey
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – He handled every challenger he faced, including one of the world’s best, and cleared every obstacle in his way, including a lengthy rain delay that forced him to finish one match and then play another on the same day.
Suffice it to say that Frances Tiafoe truly earned the title of 2018 Delray Beach Open champion.
The 20-year-old Tiafoe polished off the most successful week of his young career here Sunday when he defeated German Peter Gojowczyk 6-1, 6-4 to capture his first ATP World Tour title at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center.
Tiafoe is the first wild card winner at Delray Beach and is the youngest American to win an ATP title since 19-year-old Andy Roddick won at Houston in 2002. He’s also the first Next-Gen American to win a title and the eighth player to capture his first ATP title at Delray Beach.
“I can’t believe it,” Tiafoe told fans who packed the Stadium court for the championship match that was only the second final in the tournament’s 26-year history to pair two unseeded opponents, as upsets and deep runs by the Next-Gen players stole the headlines this week.
Tiafoe also snapped Gojowczyk’s streak of 14 consecutive wins, including eight ATP Tour-level matches, against American opponents. Tiafoe coincidentally was the last American to beat Gojowczyk, at the Winnetka Challenger event in 2016.
“I’m glad I stopped that,” Tiafoe said of Gojowczyk’s streak that included Americans John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Steve Johnson here this week.
Tiafoe’s journey to the title included a win over No. 2 seed and world No. 10 Juan Martin del Potro in the second round, followed by victories against No. 8 seed Hyeon Chung in the quarterfinals and fellow NextGen star Denis Shapovalov in the semifinals.
Gojowczyk, whose world No. 64 ranking will improve to just outside the Top 50 on the heels of his performance here this week, was hampered by a left thigh injury he sustained against Johnson in Saturday’s semifinals, which he said limited his ability to compete for some shots and go to the net as well as he would like.
“I was a little handicapped today,” said Gojowczyk. “It was not my day today. But I reached my career high now with this tournament. . . . (Tiafoe) beat a lot of good guys this week. It was a good week for him, an amazing week.”
Tiafoe, who arrived in Delray ranked No. 91 in the world and likely will rise to about No. 61 now, said he felt bad that Gojowczyk was not 100 percent healthy for the match. But he vowed after winning his semifinal match Saturday night against Chung that he was intent on halting Gojowczyk’s winning streak against Americans.
“I told you guys I was going to get him,” Tiafoe said at his post-match press conference. “All the guys were texting me, ‘you got to take him out.’ He’s a good player. He’s been playing really well lately. He can definitely be in the top 30. Again, I feel bad he wasn’t 100 percent today.”
Tiafoe had only nine career wins two weeks ago but has added seven wins to his resume after New York and Delray Beach the past two weeks, including his first ATP title. He collapsed to the court when he notched match point in the second set, then rose to his feet and pointed toward the stands where his father was sitting.
“I couldn’t believe it happened,” Tiafoe said of that moment. “I was not expecting this this week, especially how the year started. It’s an amazing feeling and I just hope I can win many more. If you’d asked me when I was younger if I was going to be here when I was 20 years old winning a title, being in a position not only to help myself but my family. It’s an unbelievable place to be. I had a couple tears.”
The singles main draw had five players ranked among the top 15 in the world when the week began, but after the quarterfinals were completed only one seeded player – Chung – remained alive in the tournament. The quarterfinals had five players 21 years old or younger. Defending champion Jack Sock, the No. 1 seed and No. 8-ranked player in the world, was ousted in the second round. So was world No. 10 and No. 2 seed Juan Martin del Potro, as well as John Isner and Milos Raonic. Sam Querry was upset in the first round by American Taylor Fritz, one of the four Next-Gen players that comprised half of the quarterfinals field. And true to form for the week, a first-time champion was crowned Sunday afternoon.
The tournament attracted a record 65,997 fans for the 17 sessions that also included the ATP Champions Tour event last weekend. The 4,885 who attended Championship Sunday was the third-largest in the tournament’s 26-year history.