Frances Tiafoe narrowly fails at Wimbledon to David Goffin


Frances Tiafoe narrowly fails at Wimbledon to David Goffin

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WIMBLEDON, England – A huge opportunity had opened up right in front of him and then dissolved, so it felt like one of those endings that was so tearing up that the non-winner wished the technology had stopped at VHS so he could grab the tape and it could burn in a cathartic ceremony.

Then Frances Tiafoe arrived in the interview room, looking more exhilarated than depressed. He was sure of his continued upswing. He answered questions about his keen sense of humor on the pitch. He looked perfect at 24 – a Tour veteran and a tennis-years pup at once.

Also, he just had the co-lead in a Doozy on Court No. 2 played.

“Just one hell of a fight,” he said.

On the Hyattsville boy’s career arc, Tiafoe’s 4-hour, 36-minute, 403-point bout against David Goffin of Belgium in Sunday’s Wimbledon round of 16 could have been a huge step across an important bridge in a sport where long-range Performances take place in narrow corridors. It could have given him a second place in the Grand Slam quarterfinals and his first since the 2019 Australian Open. It could have given him a real shot at a first Grand Slam semifinal, maybe on center court against Novak Djokovic.

Instead, unseeded Goffin’s 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 win for 23rd-seeded Tiafoe could mean something else: a fresh emblem for it, quite to be up somewhere. “The level of tennis was, I mean, top 10, easy,” Tiafoe said. “We both hit ridiculous shots.”

So he served 4-5 in the fourth set and saved three set points, then had three cue balls, then fell to a double fault and a converted forehand from a 17-shot rally…

And back in the fifth set when he came back at 5-5 and saw two break points at 15-40 and then suffered an ace, serve winner, serve winner, serve winner…

There was a possibility of an all-American quarterfinal between Tiafoe and Tommy Paul before both lost on Sunday and Paul said after losing in straight sets to Cameron Norrie: “Our side of the draw was pretty open; I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone.”

It might be okay not to burn everything down, especially given the quality of Tiafoe in the midst of a masterpiece of a fight.

“We definitely left it out on the court,” he once said.

“Rallies were crazy; Level was crazy,” he said on another.

After 25 appearances in Grand Slam tournaments, it is clear that Tiafoe is yearning for the next rung, which would be a routine presence in the second weeks of major brackets. He said it the other day, “I want more.” He’s been into four fourths and won one. In a sport where one amazing generation is slowly giving way to the next – unless Djokovic, say, wins 19-year-old Spanish sensation Carlos Alcaraz in four sets by his 50th, it might just be time for Tiafoe to move on and move on to move a little deeper in the two weeks.

For that reason, this could count as agony, but at the moment he said he might even watch the game again in a few days, maybe even see the good drops between the 28th player (Tiafoe) and the 58th player (Goffin ), who also scored in the second round at the French Open, a four-set win for the Belgian.

“You appreciate it a lot more after that, don’t you?” said Tiafoe. “All the while, you’re just trying to do everything in your power to try and get a win. I haven’t even really processed what just happened. Just played five brutal sets. Crazy rallies running everywhere. Yeah, probably in a few days, maybe when I look at the game or whatever, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah man, that was crazy to be a part of.’ ”

For now: “I’m going to be sore as hell tomorrow.”

Choice words, bizarre escapades characterize a crazy men’s night at Wimbledon

“The atmosphere on that court was incredible,” said Goffin, a 31-year-old who advanced to the fourth major quarterfinal. “You have players that it’s always nice to play against – not because of the game or anything, but simply because there’s always a nice atmosphere on the pitch with the opponent and the spectators like it too. That’s how it was with Frances today. We gave everything on the pitch. … So yeah, it’s a great reminder of that place.”

It had weight but also humor, showing Tiafoe’s useful talent for the latter. After an early chase, he shook hands with a bystander.

“He gives a nice, formal handshake,” Tiafoe said. “I thought it was funny. … That calmed me down. After that it was war.”

After another chase later, in the fourth set, he ended up close to a linesman, so he just leaned over and ended up hugging her.

“I see the lady, I walked up to the lady, too tired, so I just hugged the lady,” he said. “Hit hard across the board [just before that], to. She laughed about it.”

After sending a serve so far away in the fourth set that it appeared to be beating the baseline — “Worst serve I’ve ever hit in my life,” he said — he did something more subtle: He raised his racquet briefly, as he wanted to challenge the line call.

“Yes, I really wish I could have done it,” he said of the challenge. “That would have been hilarious. I think the whole crowd would have laughed.”

Those things can help when things go on for so long that, as Tiafoe said, “It felt like we were on clay court at some point, the rallies were so long. I thought, ‘This defeats the purpose of the grass season!’ ”

Technically he lost.

“Will definitely sting,” he said. “In the end, a good opportunity for a lot of guys. I was hoping me and Tommy could both win and play in the quarterfinals but unfortunately we both lost. Yes, it was an opportunity for a lot of guys to progress in the slam. … At the end of the day I played great tennis so I can’t think about it or feel sorry for myself.”

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