From tasting mimosas to saving match points
Frances Tiafoe was in Cabo on vacation with his girlfriend, sipping mimosas and enjoying some free time at the end of a long and grueling season when he received a last minute call-up to join the USA squad. during the Davis Cup final in Turin. It was Saturday, just five days before the tournament kicked off.
The American cut his vacation short, hopped on a plane, had a canceled flight and got stranded in Houston before finally joining his teammates in northern Italy on Tuesday.
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On Sunday, Tiafoe played hard against an inspired Nicolas Mejia, saving two match points en route to a 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7) victory that gave the USA team a 1-0 advantage over Colombia.
It was Tiafoe’s very first Davis Cup victory – he was 0-2 in the upcoming competition – and the emotions he showed as he celebrated with his team before sitting down at his bench with a towel draped over his head portrayed how much it meant to him.
âIt felt good. Never won a Davis Cup match before. The last tie I played in 2018 lost both, lost in the fifth rubber. I just really wanted to win, âTiafoe said.
I was on vacation before that. I wasn’t supposed to play. I came here, I will give my all. Yes, it was moving, but in the end, I’m happy to have won for everyone and put myself in danger for the country.
Tiafoe finished his 2021 ATP season strong. The 23-year-old reached the fourth round of the US Open, the final in Vienna – beating Jannik Sinner and Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way – and finished the year with a semi-final in Stockholm. Or at least he thought so.
âI thought my season was over after Stockholm. I was cool with it. I was getting ready to eat my Thanksgiving feast, and plans changed very quickly, âsaid the world No. 38.
âThe flight was canceled in Houston, stranded in Houston. So I had a lot of adversity. So I said to myself: “If I play, I’m going to play hard”. It was nice. I’m glad my girlfriend came with me. I’m glad I ended up winning.
John Isner, who lost his two singles matches this week to Italy and Colombia, offered Tiafoe props for showing up for work after hiding his season.
âI thought it was extremely impressive what Frances did,â Isner said. âI thought what his opponent had done was very impressive as well. But Frances to literally answer the call of a vacation, like a vacation, and come here and play for this team and play for her country and play like that today, that was no small feat, because he had stopped his year, but he had to start again. It’s really not easy to do, not easy to do at all. What he did there today was very impressive to me.
“I will work 10 times harder”
Mejia was only playing his third Davis Cup game and the world number 275 looked inconsolable after losing a 6-4 lead in the decisive tie-break before falling to Tiafoe.
The 21-year-old from Bogota seemed to have an answer for every round Tiafoe tried to shoot him throughout the game and received a rave review from his opponent after the game – something Mejia was touched to hear.
âI appreciate these words. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s a bit of the same generation as me, and he’s one of the players you’ve always admired because he was one of the best of our generation, âsaid Mejia de Tiafoe. “To have the chance to play against him at the highest stadium in tennis or at one of the highest stadiums in tennis and play at the level that I have played, I think is very satisfying.”
Mejia has shown an incredible level in his two singles matches against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego and against Tiafoe and the Colombian believes his week in Turin can only benefit him for the future.
“I just think I’m coming home and I’m going to work 10 times harder, work my ass and I hope next time I get an opportunity like this I take it.” Yeah, I just have to work a lot harder. That’s all, he said.
I can’t say I’m exactly at this level, because my ranking is 275 right now, and I have to progress and earn my right to play with these guys.
Bublik’s nod to Medvedev
Alexander Bublik is one of the most colorful figures on the ATP tour and on Sunday he was happy to put on a show as he secured Kazakhstan’s place in the quarterfinals with a 6-2 7-6 (6) victory over the Canadian Vasek. Pospisil.
In addition to throwing 14 aces, winning 88% of his first serve points and surprising his opponent with a serve under his arms, Bublik rejoiced that the crowd was against him and took great pleasure in them. silenced during the victory, putting his finger to his mouth as he strutted towards the net and later borrowed a line from Daniil Medvedev, who had mocked the New York crowd en route to the final of the ‘US Open two years ago.
âAs one legend said, ‘When you go to sleep guys know I won because of you,â Bublik said on the Madrid court as the crowd hissed and booed him.
He later added in his press conference:
I think this is all part of the big show. The same one who hisses you, 20 minutes later they ask for autographs. I have nothing against them. It is a spectacle; they enter; they take advantage of the time.
âOf course they like to boo. I might as well, why not? It’s just part of the game. I find it funny. I mean, believe me, these people will see me on the street and say, “Have fun.” I would be happy to see them too. It’s part of our game. So no hard feelings, I guess.
On his decision to quote Medvedev during his on-pitch interview, Bublik said: âI remember making so many jokes with him about it. We joked about it for probably two years. I mean, it was a funny situation with him. I think it’s the same with me. This is why I said that.
Lopez remains a hero until the bitter end
Another day, another impressive victory for 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez, this time over world No.5 Andrey Rublev on Sunday in Madrid.
After his first singles win in Spain’s draw against Ecuador on Friday, Lopez increased the bet and surprised Rublev 2-6 6-3 6-4 to give his side an early advantage over Russia and claim his first top-five victory in four and a half years.
âAs you can imagine, to be honest, this exceeds all expectations,â Lopez said. âFor me, it was already amazing to be here to represent my country at 40 years old. I wasn’t expecting to be the one playing singles, but we had a lot of problems over the week and I had to take on that role, get out on the court playing singles.
“Honestly today playing against Andrey, world number five, at this point in my career in my hometown is beyond all expectations.”
Lopez returned to the pitch a few hours later and lost a hard blow in three sets in doubles alongside Marcel Granollers against Rublev and Aslan Karatsev.
Serbs owe the Russians a drink
Spain’s doubles loss to the Russians excluded the hosts from the competition and offered Serbia a place in the quarter-finals as the second-best finalist in the group stage.
The fate of the Serbs was at stake after their loss to Germany on Saturday and they needed Russia to beat Spain to advance.
Medvedev joked when a Serbian journalist started asking him a question during his press conference after the draw: “You must be happy, Vuk,” the Russian said with a chuckle.
Funny, because during the match we are already getting messages from some people from Serbia, let’s call it that, because I’m not going to say who, and not just me, but a lot of us, saying: ‘Come on guys, we believe in you’.
“I feel like this is where it’s funny in a good way this format where, yeah, they had to be near their TVs to cheer us up, let’s call it that.”
Leave their mark
They may have missed out on a quarterfinal berth, but nations like the Czech Republic and Hungary can pull out of Davis Cup finals with their heads held high after some courageous performances against more experienced opponents.
Ranked 143rd in the world, 21-year-old Czech Tomas Machac made his competitive debut and claimed two singles victories in as many draws against veteran France Richard Gasquet and British world No.25 Daniel Evans.
Fellow 20-year-old Jiri Lehecka also gave world No.12 Cameron Norrie a hard time by stretching the Briton to three sets before surrendering.
Meanwhile, Hungarian world No.282 Zsombor Piros produced two stellar upsets in singles, beating Australia’s John Millman and former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia.
âI’m shaking, to be honest. I try to rest in the locker room. My hands, my legs were shaking a bit so it’s hard to deal with physically, âsaid the 22-year-old after beating Cilic on Sunday.
I’m proud of myself, of my team because we maybe have the biggest heart and we’re fighting and showing it to the world this weekend. I am very happy that so many people see the Hungarian spirit.
âIf that doesn’t motivate me, then I don’t know what will. I think that will give me a lot of confidence for next year and for the next matches, âadded the former Australian Open junior champion.
Quote of the day
âIt was a fun experience. I just wish I could have, you know, in a team competition, I wish I could help my team more, and I didn’t. It is quite disappointing. You know, you guys feel like you’re letting it down. I mean, I know they don’t feel that way, but it’s hard for me not to feel that way. That’s really the beauty of these competitions. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s the beast too. You can be the person who is not contributing. It was me.”
– Isner offers a solid prospect following his loss to Colombian Daniel Elahi Galan.
- Lopez won 30 of his 52 approaches to the net in his straight set victory over Rublev.
- Great Britain have qualified for the quarter-finals for the sixth time since 2014.
- With their 2-1 victory over Austria on Sunday, Germany are now perfect 6-0 against their neighbors in the Davis Cup.
- Kazakh Bublik is now a 6-1 winner in Davis Cup singles matches following his triumph over Pospisil on Sunday.
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