Tiafoe cruises; Paul, in first, rallies from 0-2 down

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NEW YORK — There was not much drama involved in Frances Tiafoe’s second-round victory at the US Open on Wednesday night. He quickly grabbed a lead and never let go. He only faced one break point — and saved it. He volleyed terrifically. His outmatched opponent needed some help from a trainer for a bothersome neck.

And you couldn’t escape the feeling that the 10th-seeded Tiafoe was having the time of his life. This is where he wants to be, no matter the details of the match. Under the lights at a Grand Slam tournament, absorbing the attention of thousands of folks in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands and reciprocating the love while getting past Sebastian Ofner of Austria 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in a tad more than 1½ hours.

“I love it. I love it. I love all of it. I love the 1-on-1 battle. You’re putting your heart on the line. Everyone’s there to watch you and one other guy. You’re competing like crazy. Everyone’s anticipating the match. And it’s like, ‘Who wants it more?'” Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland, said during an interview before the US Open. “If you don’t love that, it’s the wrong sport for you. I just absolutely love being in those positions and those atmospheres.”

He knew this was Ofner’s US Open debut and said after Wednesday’s encounter that he wanted to use “the environment to my advantage.”

A year ago at Flushing Meadows, Tiafoe’s career changed and his life did, too. He beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round along the way to reaching the semifinals of a major for the first time, then pushing eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz to the limit before bowing out.

All the way, the fans — including some well-known ones, such as former first lady Michelle Obama and NBA All-Star Bradley Beal — showered Tiafoe with affection. And he certainly enjoyed basking in that adulation and the extra attention that came with his higher profile, including a role in the Netflix docuseries about tennis, “Break Point.”

“I’m totally cool with putting myself fully out there and seeing what happens. Let the chips fall where they may. I love feeling the crowd with me. Everyone paid their hard-earned money to come watch. So I want them to enjoy,” Tiafoe said. “And also, I want to win.”

Next up for Tiafoe is No. 22 Adrian Mannarino of France, who produced one wild on-the-run ’tweener during his win Wednesday.

“He’s very tricky. He’s got an unorthodox game style,” Tiafoe said. “I’m ready. I’m ready for him.”

Tiafoe is part of a crop of American men in their 20s who have been steadily moving up the rankings and starting to show signs of threatening for major championships. Andy Roddick was the last man from the country to earn a Grand Slam trophy, at the US Open 20 years ago.

Two other U.S. men joining Tiafoe in the third round with victories were No. 14 Tommy Paul, an Australian Open semifinalist in January who collected his first career comeback from two sets down to beat Roman Safiullin 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, and Ben Shelton, who advanced when 2020 champion Dominic Thiem stopped playing in the second set after being visited by a physiotherapist. No. 28 Christopher Eubanks lost in four sets to Benjamin Bonzi of France, while No. 9 Taylor Fritz was in action later.

“We all grew up together. We know each other so well. American tennis is in a great place,” Tiafoe said. “Hopefully we keep going and hopefully we end that streak.”

Tiafoe has now reached the third round at all four majors in a year for the first time in his career. Over the past 15 years, the only other American men to make the third round or better at all four slams were Roddick (2009) and John Isner (2016). Fritz made three third-round appearances during the 2020 major calendar year, but Wimbledon was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paul, back in the third round at Flushing Meadows for a second straight year, had been 0-9 in his career when trailing by two sets in a best-of-five match before Wednesday.

When the match was over, the 14th seed from New Jersey raced over to hug and give a shirt to a young fan who had cheered him on throughout the more than three-hour contest.

Paul will have his hands full on Friday when he faces Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. The Spaniard has been sharp during the summer hardcourt swing and won his first two matches in straight sets.

ESPN Stats & Information, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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