The week in tennis: Frances Tiafoe looks ahead, Serena Williams’ baby news and more

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Frances Tiafoe has one word to describe his life since reaching the semifinals at the US Open in September.

“Whirlwind.”

Since his breakthrough, the 25-year-old has scored a number of famous fans — including LeBron James, who tweeted at him during the tournament — earned new sponsorships and even got to play in the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game in February.

“You know, my status has changed,” Tiafoe told ESPN.com last week from Madrid. “I’m looked at totally different [now], and not only in the game of tennis but in the culture sense. … It’s been a year of experiences for me, [due to] all the work that I’ve put in. Everything is coming to fruition.”

Included in that year of new experiences was his first-ever title on clay. Tiafoe took home the trophy in Houston last month with a dominant run in which he didn’t drop a set. The triumph — which marked his second ATP title and first since 2018 — saw him rise to his current career-high ranking of No. 11.

Tiafoe partially credits LeBron James for the achievement. Before the tournament got underway, Tiafoe went to watch the Los Angeles Lakers play against the Houston Rockets and spent time with James after the game.

“I’ve met him a couple of times now, but it just never gets old,” Tiafoe said. “When I got into the car to leave, I was like, ‘Why am I so damp?’ and I guess it’s because I was just so f—ing nervous. We speak normally to one another but you never get it out of your head that it’s LeBron James.

“When you watch him play, and you see what he’s been able to do — it’s his 20th year in the league — and how he plays at such a high level, and then he says to you that he’s following what you’re doing, after that, it’s just like, ‘Man, let me go and have a good week.'”

Now Tiafoe is hoping he can further his momentum throughout the European clay season, although he hasn’t quite been able to do that during his first two events. He lost in his opening-round match in Barcelona and fell on Monday to Pedro Cachin in the Round of 32 at Madrid. He will next play in the Italian Open, which gets underway next week.

Tiafoe believes he is capable of even more the rest of the year. While he’s never advanced past the Round of 64 at Roland Garros, he wants to reach the second week in Paris this time around — and has even loftier goals for the grass and hardcourt seasons. He wants to make a deep run at Wimbledon and then finish what he started last year in New York.

“It’s going to give me goosebumps to get back on [Arthur Ashe] again,” Tiafoe said. “I’m already really excited. I want to win the US Open this year and I’m going to give everything I’ve got for that event.”

What else is going on this week? Let’s take a look:


Fifteen (Mirra’s version)

While many of the sport’s biggest names remain in the draw at Madrid, it’s Mirra Andreeva whom everyone is still talking about, despite losing on Monday to Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16. If you find yourself saying, “Who?” right now, please let us fill you in you on tennis’ latest teenage sensation.

A week ago, Andreeva was a 15-year-old who had never won a WTA match and was largely playing ITF events. But, after back-to-back ITF titles (and having reached the Australian Open junior final in January), Andreeva received a wild card to play Madrid. In her first-round match on Wednesday she defeated 2021 US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, 6-3, 6-4, and became just the second 15-year-old to beat a top-50 player at a WTA tournament.

And she soon proved that victory was no fluke. She went on to defeat Beatriz Haddad Maia and Magda Linette – both ranked in the top 20 – to force the fourth-round clash with Sabalenka and add her name to the history books in several more age-related categories. As if this whole thing couldn’t get any sweeter for her, the win over Linette was on her 16th birthday.

Andreeva has been charming fans, and her peers, off the court as well. During an interview with the Tennis Channel after the win over Linette, she was asked what the coolest part of playing at the event was and she couldn’t help but fangirl over one of her favorite players.

“The atmosphere is so special,” Andreeva said. “You take a lunch with all these stars, let’s say. You see Andy Murray … you see his face and he’s so beautiful in life. He’s so amazing.”

Of course, the always self-deprecating Murray didn’t hesitate to weigh in on her comments.

So, to recap, Andreeva not only beat three top-50 players and will rise into the top 150 for the first time, but she’s already bantering with one of the sport’s most beloved figures. What a superstar.


When in doubt, play “Rock, paper, scissors”

Andrey Rublev defeated Stan Wawrinka, 7-5, 6-4, in the Round of 64 at the Madrid Open on Friday, but the score or even the match’s outcome isn’t what got the attention of the internet.

During the coin toss, done virtually on the stadium’s video board, Wawrinka was asked to call “Madrid” or “Mutua.” He picked Madrid, but then the virtual coin instead landed on “ATP,” an option most definitely not offered to Wawrinka. Hilarity ensued.

A second coin toss couldn’t be done on the big screen for technical reasons and, after several seconds of laughter and jokes, Rublev suggested they play “Rock, paper, scissors” instead. Rublev went with paper. Wawrinka opted for scissors to score the victory. (Of the coin toss, that is — he still lost the match.)


Getting fancy

Due in large part to Anna Wintour’s well-known love for the sport, tennis players are often guests at Vogue’s annual Met Gala — and this year was no exception. On Monday night in New York, Roger Federer was a co-chair for the event, alongside Dua Lipa, Michaela Coel and Penelope Cruz, and he took his position seriously. With the night’s theme honoring the late fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, Federer wore a custom Dior tuxedo — accessorized with sunglasses and a Rolex — and was giving serious James Bond vibes.

But despite his important title and fancy watch, Federer was completely overshadowed by — who else? — Serena Williams. The 23-time major champion announced she was expecting her second child with an immediately iconic Instagram post ahead of the event. In a series of photos, which included both her husband Alexis Ohanian and a visible pregnancy bump, Williams wrote, ever so casually, “Was so excited when Anna Wintour invited the 3 of us to the Met Gala.”

And you thought nothing could top Serena and Venus’ photos with Sharapova at the 2021 Met Gala. Well played, Serena. Well played.


Halep speaks out

For the first time since learning of her failed drug test, two-time major champion Simona Halep spoke in an interview about the accusation and her current provisional suspension. Speaking to Tennis Majors, a website co-founded by her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, the former world No. 1 expressed her shock over testing positive for roxadustat — a substance she claimed she had never even heard of — and her frustration about how long the process was taking to clear her name and resume her career.

“It’s been seven months since I’ve been originally suspended even though I’ve had all the evidence [to prove my innocence] since December,” Halep said. “I’m not asking for special treatment. I just ask to be judged. How much longer is this going to take?”

Halep, 31, said there is a hearing currently scheduled for the end of May, but she was not confident it would take place at that time because other hearings had been canceled previously. Calling this “the hardest battle” she’s ever faced, Halep said she was hopeful she would be able to return to the tour eventually. She faces a maximum suspension of four years.

“I have worked all my life for this,” Halep said. “I kept playing [during the suspension] because I had hope that the case would be solved. I’ve had many delays. It wasn’t easy to stay focused but I did my best and I stayed as focused as possible to work and to practice as much as possible.

“Until now, tennis has always been my life. I feel that I want to do it again when I come back. I want to be as strong as I was before, even more if it’s possible.”


Tough at the top

Since her improbable US Open win in 2021, Emma Raducanu has gone from virtual unknown to global superstar, with high-profile endorsement deals and millions of social media followers. However, things on the tennis court haven’t gone as well: She has struggled with injuries and hasn’t advanced past the second round of a major. Last week, the 20-year-old had another setback when she withdrew from the Madrid Open — just hours before her opening-round match — due to a lingering right wrist injury. She subsequently will fall out of the top 100 in next week’s rankings. (There are no new rankings this week as the Madrid Open continues.)

Prior to her withdrawal, Raducanu had already gone viral for her terse 58-word press conference the day prior.

It’s been a rough road for Raducanu, and shows just how hard it is to win consistently on the WTA Tour — especially when the pressure is sky-high and suddenly you’re the one with a target on your back. Very few can relate to what that’s like, but one person who can is Eugenie Bouchard. The now-29-year-old stunned the tennis world in 2014 by reaching the Wimbledon final, as well as the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open, and rose to No. 5 in the world.

But in recent years, Bouchard has struggled with injuries and is currently ranked No. 285. She came through qualifying in Madrid to play in her first 1000-level main draw since 2019. She ultimately fell in the second round to Martina Trevisan, 6-2, 7-5, and expressed her sympathy for Raducanu.

“I see lots of similarities,” Bouchard told reporters. “I feel for her in the sense. She has a great life, she’s set for life and she’s had great achievements. But I can understand a little bit, possibly the pressure, the scrutiny. She tweeted something, posted something about not doing tennis one day and people were like, ‘Why don’t you go practice.’ I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I went through that six, eight years ago.’ Haters will hate, you know what I mean?

“And I think she will do just fine. I think she may be just, kind of like me. I did well, kind of right away, and then I had to do the steps I missed and she probably just has to go through that a bit.”

Bouchard also drew ire for a since-deleted tweet that targeted Maria Sharapova and her first-round opponent Dayana Yastremska during her time in Madrid, but let’s focus on the positive message for Raducanu instead.

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