US Open first round: Roger Federer vs. Frances Tiafoe

Rain has robbed fans of Day 2 at the US Open. However, though only two matches are scheduled, primetime at the Open promises to be thrilling. An American favorite, Madison Keys, begins her US Open tonight; playing Belgian Elise Mertens at 7pm. Keys, following an injury-plagued 2017 season, is hoping a successful run here can set her up well for 2018. She’ll be counting on the New York crowd to propel her to victory.

Following the Keys match, American #NextGen star Frances Tiafoe will go for the win of his career. He faces the ultimate test, matching up against Roger Federer in his first ever US Open primetime match. At the 2001 Wimbledon, an eerily similar situation unfolded in the men’s draw. A promising 19-year-old named Roger Federer knocked off the games greatest champion, Pete Sampras, in five sets. Federer entered that match more experienced then Tiafoe arrives at this one, but nevertheless, this match offers a rare opportunity for a changing of the guards on tour. Federer defeated Tiafoe in the two’s only career matchup earlier this year in Miami, but enters this match in far worse form. He was last seen hobbling off of the court in Montreal, after being defeated by #NextGen star Alex Zverev. Tiafoe, meanwhile, recently earned his best victory, defeating Zverev to reach the round of sixteen in Cincinnati. In our US open preview, we declared Tiafoe/Federer our favorite American first round matchup. Here is a more detailed preview of that match, as well as our prediction for the result.

Federer’s 2017 ATP Season: 35–3, 2 Grand Slam Titles (Australian Open, Wimbledon), 5 titles overall, currently ranked #3 in the world

Tiafoe’s 2017 ATP Season: 5–13 on the ATP tour, no titles, best result: round of 16 in Cincinnati, currently ranked #70 in the world

Federer Gameplan: Look, Roger Federer should win this match. He does 99% of things on a tennis court better than Tiafoe, and no player has won more night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium than Fed. Federer has not lost in the first round of a grand slam since 2003, and he has won 19 slams since that loss. He has not lost to an American since 2015, though two of his three losses this season came to players outside of the Top 100. Still, as long as Fed’s back does not flare up during the match, he will likely win. Look for him to attack Tiafoe’s forehand return, and as always, expect him to approach the net frequently. In their Miami match, Fed often used his return as an approach shot to the net. Tiafoe must have a high first serve percentage if he hopes to avoid the same result.

Tiafoe Gameplan: Don’t expect Tiafoe to be intimidated by the moment. He has won a five set match before[1], and experienced the thrills of New York last year when he lost in five sets to John Isner. He has also played Federer before, and should have a decent understanding of his game plan. Tiafoe has a sloppy habit of chopping forehands, and he must avoid slicing his forehand returns if he is to have any chance at winning this match. In Miami, Federer picked on Tiafoe’s forehand return to secure easy second balls and dominate rallies. To have success this time, Tiafoe must swing through his returns. He must also run around Fed’s backhand slices, and test Fed’s movement by hitting behind him. Tiafoe loves to put on a show, and too often relies on his athleticism to get him out of bad situations. That will not work against Fed. He must not be content going for audacious passing shots, and must be willing to attack whenever possible. One small thing from his Miami match: Tiafoe had a sneaky amount of success approaching Fed’s forehand. Fed loves to shade towards the ad side to open up his forehand. If Tiafoe hopes to have success, he must keep Fed honest, and must successfully attack with his backhand up the line.

One key stat to look for from Federer: First serve percentage. Against Alex Zverev in the final of Montreal, Fed was an uncharacteristic 27/53 (51%) on first serves. After the match he revealed that he tweaked his back during the second set. Federer loves to dictate, and when he serves well, there is very little a returner can do to hurt him. However, when Fed is forced to play defensively, he almost begins to look his age on court.

One key stat to look for from Tiafoe: The New York Crowd. No, this statistic is not quantifiable. However, it is not unfair to say that Federer has become the fan favorite at the Open. Celebrities have come from across the country to watch Federer play, and there will likely be a fair amount of them at this match. The question is, can Tiafoe get the American crowd to rally behind him? He will certainly try his best to engage the crowd, and will likely look for them to, as Brad Gilbert says, “Get Up” and support him. If Tiafoe can get off to a good start in this match, he may just be able to convince them to believe in him. If that happens, this match will be very fun to watch.

Prediction: Federer did beat Sampras in that Wimbledon match in 2001, but that was a different era. In 2017, Federer has won 2 grand slams, and has lost 3 total matches. Tiafoe will make things interesting, and will win a set in this match. Unfortunately, Tiafoe’s game is not yet refined enough to win 3 of 5 sets from Fed.

Roger Federer def. Frances Tiafoe 57 75 62 75

Author: Alex Gruskin, American Tennis Enthusiast, way past his prime, Host of the Great Shot Podcast

Editor: Max Fliegner, Dartmouth tennis player, now pre-med, Producer of the Great Shot Podcast

Editor: Max Rothman, real estate tycoon, a little left in the tank, Co-Host of the Great Shot Podcast

[1] He won the 2014 Boys 18’s National Championship in a five set thriller over Stefan Kozlov

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