Francis Tiafoe, the American teen phenom lost after being up two sets to none on John Isner in the first round of the US Open today 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2, 7-6. Even though Tiafoe lost he’s the main story here. You can see why Tiafoe is being touted as one of the next big things in tennis. With his supreme athleticism he stays in every point and gets to every ball. The big knock on Tiafoe has been that his forehand had been a mess throughout his young career, and although it’s still rather loopy, he was moving Isner all over the court, ending many of them with winners.
The most surprising aspect of Tiafoe’s game in this match was his composure and return of serve. Multiple times Isner hit huge serves to Tiafoe’s backhand side and more than once he simply blocked them back, either down the line or cross court, for winners. Tiafoe broke Isner early in the first and second set and even when he gave back the break at 3-3 in the second set he battled back to win the set 6-3. He made sure to get his first serve in and change up pace to get back on track. Even when the Grandstand started to fill up and they were playing in front of a huge crowd he continued to play confidently. However, when he lost the third and went down a break in the 4th, eventually losing it 6-2, his shoulders dropped and it looked like he might completely fold. He seems pretty rattled.
In the fifth set both men brought out their A game. Both were going for every shot and hitting some huge aces and baseline winners. It was clear heading into hour three that Tiafoe was tiring, never having been in a five set match before in his short professional career. At 3-3 Tiafoe hit a down the line backhand winner and a lethal cross court winner back-to-back. Tiafoe finally got a break after an easy back-hand pass down the baseline after another lazy Isner volley, but Isner broke right back redeeming himself with a filthy drop volley to set up 3 break points. When it got to a tiebreak it was clear Isner was going to serve it out for victory.
All that being said, the first two sets were probably the worst I have ever seen Isner play. He double faulted twice in his first service game it went downhill from there. Isner was sluggish, his footwork at the baseline and the net was sloppy and his backhand was an inconsistent mess. His return of serve has never been his strong suit but he was making Tiafoe look like, well, John Isner. He dropped the first two sets in an hour which is usually what Serena does to first round opponents. Not sure how many more realistic shots at a Grand Slam semi-final or final he has left.