By HOWARD FENDRICH AP Tennis Writer
NEW YORK — Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe engaged in a high-level, high-energy spectacle of a back-and-forth semifinal at the U.S. Open – no point over when it seemed to be, no ball out of reach, no angle too audacious.
One sequence was so stuffed with “What?! How?!” moments by both men that Arthur Ashe Stadium spectators were on their feet before it was over and remained there, clapping and carousing, through a replay on the video screens.
Ultimately, enough of the winners went Alcaraz’s way, and too many of the mistakes came from Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who surged into his first Grand Slam final – and, in the process, gave himself a chance to become the top-ranked player in the world at age 19 – by ending Tiafoe’s run at Flushing Meadows with a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 victory on Friday night.
“It’s amazing to be able to fight for big things,” Alcaraz said.
“You have give everything on court,” he said. “Frances gave everything on court.”
Alcaraz appeared to seize control by grabbing nine of 10 games in one stretch and could have ended the evening when he held a match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe saved it and soon was yelling, “Ï’m putting my heart on the (expletive) line!” Soon after that, Tiafoe was forcing a fifth set by improving to a U.S. Open-record 8-0 in tiebreakers.
Still, Alcaraz showed no signs of fatigue despite playing a third five-setter in a row – including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal win that ended at 2:50 a.m. ET on Thursday, the latest finish in tournament history – and was better when he needed to be, taking four of the last five games.
Now No. 3 Alcaraz will face No. 7 Casper Ruud for the championship on Sunday with so much on the line: The winner will become a major champion for the first time and lead the world rankings next week.
“Too good from Carlos tonight,” Tiafoe said. “I gave everything I had.”
Alcaraz and Tiafoe offered an exceptionally entertaining performance for a little more than a set, and a little more than an hour, at the start, then again for the latter portion of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth.
Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champ Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sellout crowd of more than 23,000 that included former first lady Michelle Obama, often asking for – and receiving – more noise. No surprise, given he was the first American man in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.
“I feel I let you guys down,” Tiafoe said during an unusual chance for a match’s loser to address the crowd in an on-court interview. “This one hurts. This one really, really hurts.”
But Alcaraz, who is from Spain, is popular around the world, widely recognized as a future star of the sport, and he is now the youngest U.S. Open men’s finalist from any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy at 19 in 1990.
When Alcaraz went up 2-0 in the fourth, spectators regaled him with a soccer-style song of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!”
Others responded by chanting, “Let’s go, Frances!”
Afterward, Alcaraz spoke first in English, then in Spanish, telling his supporters that they helped him fight for “every point, every ball” and tapped his chest as he said this was “for my family, for my team, for me, for all of you.”
There were so many memorable exchanges and scenes between Tiafoe and Alcaraz. One arrived in the second set’s third game, when Alcaraz saved a break point and went on to hold. A smiling Tiafoe jokingly climbed over the net to Alcaraz’s side, as if to go shake hands at match’s end.
If this semifinal had, indeed, concluded right then and there, no one could have complained about the product. It would proceed for a total of 4 hours, 19 minutes.
They wore matching shirts – red in front, white in back, burgundy on the side – and were every bit each other’s equal for lengthy stretches, including until 6-all in the opening tiebreaker.
Alcaraz, who by then already had saved four set points, offered up a fifth by sending a backhand wide, then made converting that one easy for Tiafoe by double-faulting. As the crowd roared, Alcaraz hung his head, walked to his sideline seat and smacked his equipment bag with his racket.
He regrouped and broke to go up in the second set, and a pivotal juncture arrived with Alcaraz serving at 5-3 but facing a break point. He snapped a cross-court forehand winner to erase that chance for Tiafoe, which began a run in which Alcaraz grabbed 11 consecutive points and 19 of 22 to own that set and a 4-0 lead in the third.
As on that forehand, Alcaraz often rips the ball with abandon – and, somehow, with precision, too, aiming for the lines and finding them. He won no fewer than three first-set points with shots that caught the outer edge of the white paint with no margin to spare.
After one, Tiafoe went over for a little light-hearted exchange with Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who briefly was No. 1 himself. Yet make no mistake: Alcaraz is not some hang-back baseliner. He has a varied, all-court game and showed off his skills by winning points via acrobatic volleys, feathered drop shots and perfectly parabolic lobs.
Other than that lull in the second and third sets, and late in the fifth, Tiafoe was exceptional, too, and having the time of his life all the while.
“I’m going to be back,” Tiafoe said, “and I will win this thing one day.”
During the day’s first semifinal, which featured a 55-shot point to end the first set, folks called out the winner’s last name – “Ruuuuud!” – and it sounded as if they were booing, rather than saluting. Ruud won that lengthy rally and built an early lead and route to beating Karen Khachanov, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.
“Towards the end,” Ruud, a 23-year-old from Norway, said about the longest point of this U.S. Open, “the pulse was getting very high and the legs were almost shaking.”
He came into this year with a record of just 14-13 in Grand Slam matches – 3-4 in New York, where his best previous showing was a third-round appearance in 2020 – then needed to sit out the Australian Open in January after twisting his ankle in practice the day before the tournament began.
Since then? He’s 13-2 at the majors in 2022. That includes finishing as the runner-up to Nadal at the French Open in June.
“After Roland Garros, I was, of course, extremely happy,” Ruud said, “but also humble enough to think that could be my only final of my career.”
It didn’t take long to get to his second.
And now either his six-place jump will represent the biggest move ever to No. 1 or Alcaraz will become the youngest man to get to the ATP’s top spot since the computerized rankings began in 1973.
All four men’s semifinalists were making their debuts in that round in New York. That had not happened at the event since 1881, when it absolutely had to: That was the inaugural edition of what was then known as the U.S. Championships.
Ruud is coached by his father, former professional player Christian, and the game plan worked perfectly for most of the day against the 31st-ranked Khachanov, a 6-foot-6 Russian with a powerful serve who eliminated Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios in five sets in the quarterfinals.
To mitigate the effect of Khachanov’s serves, Ruud would stand way behind the baseline to return, then look to dominate exchanges from the baseline. Ruud used flawless footwork for side-to-side defense and found openings to deliver deep groundstrokes that could finish off points.
He came up with occasional brilliance, such as the over-the-shoulder volley winner that put him ahead 6-3 in the tiebreaker. Moments later came the point of the match, on Ruud’s third opportunity to end that set. It lasted 75 seconds and contained 19 more strokes than the second-longest rally of these entire two weeks, culminating with a down-the-line backhand by Ruud that drew a netted forehand in response.
Dad smiled. His kid raised both arms and put up two fingers on his right hand. Could have been just the index finger to signify No. 1, which could be next to his name soon.
“We both just refused to do a mistake, knowing how important that point is,” Ruud said. “Towards the end, the pulse was getting very high and the legs were almost shaking.”
Khachanov couldn’t recall a 55-shot rally in his career, and though he hated to lose it, he was initially encouraged afterward by the way he played at the end of the set.
“I felt pumped in a way that we had this long rally, we were moving both,” he said. “I felt like, ‘OK, it’s a painful one to lose a set with this point.’ On the other side, I felt like, ‘OK, now we’re moving a lot, let’s keep on going.’”
Ruud broke to go up 2-1 in the second set and was on his way there. After Khachanov surged late in the third to make things slightly more intriguing, Ruud broke to lead 2-1 in the fourth, ripping a down-the-line forehand winner from the doubles alley.
Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury became the second team in the professional era to repeat as U.S. Open men’s doubles champions, beating Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski, 7-6 (4), 7-5.
The top-seeded team joined the Hall of Fame duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in 1995 and ’96 as the only teams to go back-to-back in New York since 1968.
Salisbury ensured he will remain the No. 1 player in the doubles rankings with his 17th consecutive U.S. Open win, combining men’s and mixed doubles.
Koolhof and Skupski, the No. 2 seeds, were playing at the U.S. Open for the first time as a team.
CATY McNALLY BACK IN FINAL
New partner, same destination for Caty McNally.
McNally earned a second straight trip to the women’s doubles final by teaming with fellow American Taylor Townsend for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over the 12th-seeded team of Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders.
McNally lost in the final last year with Coco Gauff, who recently reached No. 1 in the women’s doubles rankings. But she and partner Jessica Pegula, who were the No. 2 seeds, were ousted in the first round.
The 20-year-old McNally went on to pair up in New York with Townsend, who returned to the tour this year after giving birth to a son in March 2021.
The duo lost the first set in 26 minutes and fell behind 2-0 in the second before mounting their rally.
McNally and Townsend will play the third-seeded team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in Sunday’s final.