Is this Frances Tiafoe’s moment? The young American has seemed on the cusp of a breakthrough for some time now – and here, in the second round of Australian Open 2019, he has punched a Kevin Anderson-shaped hole in the bottom half of the draw, downing the No.5 seed 4-6 6-4 6-4 7-5 for arguably the biggest win of his career.
Anderson's anguish as Tiafoe triumphs
The world No.39 is through to the third round at Melbourne Park for the first time – and second at a Grand Slam – where he will face Italy’s Andreas Seppi on the eve of his 21st birthday. For Anderson, however, another Australian Open campaign ends in disappointment; his AO win-loss record now reads 12-11.
“It means the world to me,” Tiafoe said. “I lost to Kevin three times last year, and down a set and a break it looked like he was going to get it for the fourth time. But I just went to a different place – I dug insanely deep.
“It’s all about competing. These guys are insanely good. It’s how bad do you really want it, and I want it real bad.”
Anderson had claimed a hat-trick of victories against the 20-year-old in 2018 and looked to have assumed control of the second-round clash when he moved a set and 3-0 in front.
But while the scoreboard was against him, the match was very much in the balance between the lines.
Nerves have played against Tiafoe at the majors before, not least during his third-round loss to Karen Khachanov at Wimbledon in 2018. But at MCA he raised his game and hit back in emphatic fashion, twinning his devastating forehand with a savvy all-court game that made the match much more than a slugfest.
Anderson was blighted by an elbow injury that required treatment before the fourth set, but it did little to stop him going toe-to-toe with Tiafoe, the South African hitting 50 of the match’s 97 winners.
But his ability to outmanoeuvre the American faded as Tiafoe stormed back, clinching an early break in the third and the killer break late in the fourth set for a 6-5 lead. He still had to fend off two break-back points before pounding his flexed bicep and nodding to the crowd in salute to a landmark victory, sealed one minute shy of the three-hour mark.
“At Wimbledon I had an unfortunate thing happen to me in the third round, so I would love to get into the second week of a Slam,” said Tiafoe, who has no intention of leaving Australia before he turns 21 if he can help it.
“If I’m in the tournament that day [of his birthday] and beat somebody, that’s the best present I can get.”