At match point, World No. 82 Frances Tiafoe chased down Australia’s John Millman’s backhand lob as it sailed inches beyond the baseline, then let out a primal scream that probably startled the few fans, who watched him rally to beat Millman 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the U.S. Open second round last night. Tiafoe, who tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this summer joined favorites No. 2 Dominic Thiem, No. 3 Danill Medvedev No. 3 Serena Williams, No. 3 and No. 7 Madison Keyes in the third round. Tiafoe says he feels no lingering effects from the deadly virus.
“I’m cool, my virus was pretty mild,” Tiafoe said. “I had close to a month to get ready for this. Some of the other guys had it pretty bad, they were struggling a lot. My brother had no symptoms at all. When I started practicing, got my EKG test done, docs and everybody told me I was cool. They said my heart is normal. I’m in third round (and) I’m feeling good.” However, he says playing without fans-in-the-stands is a problem.
“I would be lying to you if I told you I like it,” he said. “I’m a guy who feeds off the crowd. It’s not easy when you’re out there putting it all on the line and you can’t get that energy from the crowd. It’s tough to sense big moments because everything is the same throughout the whole match. You can hit a between-the-legs winner or a horrendous shot in the fence, it’s the same reaction you’re going to get, but that’s an adjustment I’ve got to get used to.”
Winning in New York also makes it easier for Tiafoe to bear. “I’ve lost some heartbreakers,” he said. “It was nice to get over the line in New York.”
Now coached by Wayne Ferreira, Tiafoe snapped a two-match losing streak against Millman. He next faces Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics, who also has beaten the Hyattsville, Md. native in their only two meetings.
Can Tiafoe snap another 0-2 losing streak and slip into the fourth round?
“He’s one of the most underrated players on tour,” Tiafoe said. “He puts guys in uncomfortable positions. It’s going to be a blood bath. It’s a big match for both of us. I’m going to have to show up. I can’t be having too many dips. I’ve got to be able to play at a high level and sustain it.”