Less than a month ago, #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe found his big breakthrough, winning his maiden ATP World Tour title at the Delray Beach Open to become the youngest American to claim a trophy since a 19-year-old Andy Roddick did so in 2002. But his next time out, Tiafoe lost in straight sets against compatriot Ernesto Escobedo at Indian Wells. Would Tiafoe bounce back in Miami?
A tremendous 29-shot rally to save set point at 5-6 in the second set emphatically answered that question. Tiafoe buckled down when he needed to most, battling to defeat Argentine Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 7-6(4) at the Miami Open presented by Itau Thursday evening to advance to the second round at the tournament for the second consecutive year.
“Unbelievable tennis toward the end. It could have went either way and luckily it went my way,” Tiafoe said. “I don’t even know how long that rally was. That was an unbelievable rally.”
When Kicker’s final one-handed backhand sailed long, Tiafoe let out a scream that echoed through the Florida night, and he proceeded to whack the ball from his pocket into the stands in excitement — it was another great win in what has been the best year of the #NextGenATP star’s young career thus far. Prior to the New York Open in February, Tiafoe had never made an ATP World Tour quarter-final. In fact, last season, the right-hander earned seven tour-level victories. Thursday evening’s triumph was Tiafoe’s eighth tour-level win of the year, and it’s only March.
“I’m happy with the way I played tonight. Trying to build off that and keep going,” Tiafoe said. “I’m playing great… good to get this and be able to play another match.”
While the 20-year-old fell against eventual champion Roger Federer in the second round last year, he will look to go a step further against No. 21 seed Kyle Edmund, this year’s Australian Open semi-finalist. It will be the pair’s first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.
Outside of the Delray Beach Open — at which he made the semi-finals — American Steve Johnson had been 1-6 in tour-level matches this season. After a tough first-round exit at Indian Wells, the 28-year-old played an ATP Challenger Tour event in Irving, Texas, where he won three matches to gain some momentum.
It appears to have paid off, as Johnson swept pass the Dominican Republic’s Victor Estrella Burgos 6-3, 6-3 to claim his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 victory of the season. Johnson will next face No. 18 seed Adrian Mannarino, against whom he owns a 2-1 FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead.
Two players who did have success in the Coachella Valley appear to be carrying momentum over to the east coast. Leonardo Mayer, who advanced to the Round of 16 at Indian Wells and held a set and a break lead against eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro before bowing out, battled back to defeat home favourite Donald Young 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. The Argentine will next face BNP Paribas Open semi-finalist Borna Coric, whom he has beaten in their two previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings.
Indian Yuki Bhambri, who won his first two Masters 1000 matches in California, earned his third victory at this level by defeating Sofia champion Mirza Basic 7-5, 6-3. That earns the qualifier a second-round battle against eighth seed Jack Sock.
Did You Know?
Tiafoe won seven tour-level matches in 2017. His victory against Kicker Thursday evening was his eighth tour-level triumph before the end of March in 2018.