24 Feb TIAFOE RIDING WAVE TO DELRAY BEACH OPEN FINALS
By Steve Dorsey
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Frances Tiafoe was thrown into an unusual position of having to win a quarterfinal and a semifinal match Saturday at the Delray Beach Open. And after a hectic 24 hours, the 20-year-old American now finds himself on the brink of possibly claiming his first ATP World Tour title.
About five hours after closing out his quarterfinal match against Hyeon Chung that was suspended Friday night because of rain, Tiafoe returned to the Stadium court at the Delray Beach Tennis Center and stopped 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov 7-5, 6-4 in a Next-Gen semifinal that wrapped up Saturday’s action.
It’s been a remarkable two weeks for Tiafoe, regardless the outcome of Sunday’s championship match against German Peter Gojowczyk, who earned a berth in the final by beating Steve Johnson earlier Saturday. Two weeks ago, Tiafoe had nine career wins. After reaching the quarterfinals at last week’s New York Open and his four wins here so far this week, Tiafoe has added six more wins to his resume.
“It’s been a great last couple of weeks, and I’m just trying to keep riding this wave and see where it takes me,” Tiafoe, ranked No. 91 in the world, said. “As a kid, you always want to win your first title, and I have a chance to do it tomorrow. To win a title at 20 years old it would be unbelievable. I wasn’t expecting any of this, so I’m just happy about everything.”
This was the first time Tiafoe and Shapovalov had faced each other in a match, and Shapovalov was gracious after losing to an opponent he acknowledged simply was the better player on this particular night.
“It definitely sucks to lose, but I have to give Frances credit today. He played extremely well,” said Shapovalov, who is ranked No. 46 in the world and was playing in only his second career semifinal. “He’s been hot all week. He was the more dominant player for sure today. But it’s been a great week for me, so going to take the positives from this week and keep going forward.”
Tiafoe will be facing an opponent in Gojowczyk who has defeated an American player in three consecutive matches this week and has beaten the last 14 Americans he’s faced. The last American Gojowczyk lost to was coincidentally none other than Tiafoe when the two met in a Challenger event in 2016.
“It’s a joke, it’s unbelievable,” Tiafoe said, shaking his head after being told that fact at his post-match press conference. “It’s got to stop. . . . . He’s been playing great. He’s been taking out all the Americans. I’m not going to let him take me out though. . . . It’s a final, just leave everything out on the court. I’ve really got nothing to lose. Just play free and try to do my thing.”
And thus the stage is set for the singles championship match.
The doubles final will kick off Championship Sunday at 12:30 p.m. Americans Jack Sock and Jackson Withrow took down the No. 3-seeded duo of Ben McLachlan and Hugo Nys 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 10-4 Saturday night to earn a berth in the final against American Nicholas Monroe and Aussie John-Patrick Smith.
Sock, who is ranked No. 8 in the world in singles, arrived in Delray Beach with aspirations of defending the singles title he won here last year. But that plan was shattered when he was upset in the second round by Reilly Opelka. Should Sock and Withrow win the doubles title Sunday, Sock will become the third player in Delray Beach history to win three titles combined in singles and doubles here. He teamed with James Blake in 2015 to win the doubles title.