As Serena exits, Coco and Frances shine

The 2022 US Open was the most exciting tennis event I have witnessed in my lifetime. I am certain legions of Black tennis fans would agree.

Never in the more than five decades that I have followed tennis have I seen so much love and affection showered on so many black players as there was this year, beginning with the GOAT, Serena Williams, who after announcing her “evolution” away from tennis just before entering the final major tournament of the season, was honored in a weeklong celebration of her career.

Serena’s final act was a catalyst for record attendance at the Open, as tennis fans packed Arthur Ashe stadium and crowded the grounds outside it to watch her matches on the big screen. In reaching the round of 16, she tantalized us with the prospect of capturing that elusive 24th major title that would tie her with record-holder Margaret Court, showing some of the form, speed and power that made her such a dominating force spanning four decades.

But that was as far as she would get.

As a bonus, however, Serena teamed up with big sister Venus Williams for what amounted to a curtain call of the greatest sister act in tennis history. They were given a wild card into the women’s doubles draw. But the sisters, who have 14 major doubles titles, as well as three Olympic Gold Medals, were unable to make it out of the first round.

That’s when fan fever swung to teen sensation Coco Gauff, whom many feel could be Serena’s heiress apparent, and Frances Tiafoe, the 24-year-old son of Sierra Leone immigrants, who has an infectious gap-toothed smile and loads of talent.

The 18-year-old Gauff has become a darling of the tennis world ever since she stunned seven-time major champion Venus Williams in her first major tournament at the 2019 Wimbledon Championships. She reached her first major final at this year’s French Open and made it to the US Open quarterfinals for the first time before being bounced by a red-hot French woman named Caroline Garcia.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 04: Coco Gauff of the United States reacts against Shuai Zhang of China during their Women’s Singles Fourth Round match on Day Seven of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 04, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Tiafoe arguably played the best match of the tournament when he defeated No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, ending the Spaniard’s 22-match win streak at majors and his quest for a record 23rd men’s major title.

It was the best I’ve seen Tiafoe play. He clicked on all cylinders, blasting forehand and backhand winners and clocking serves above 130 miles per hour. His fastest was 138. When it looked like Rafa would overtake the crowd-pleasing Tiafoe after winning the second set, the Hyattsville, MD., native steadied himself and won the next two sets to vault into the quarterfinals.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 05: Frances Tiafoe of the United States shakes hands after defeating Rafael Nadal of Spain during their Men’s Singles Fourth Round match on Day Eight of the 2022 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 05, 2022 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Tiafoe became the first American to reach the men’s final eight since John Isner did it in 2018 and the youngest to reach the quarterfinals since Andy Roddick in 2006.

While Tiafoe’s victory over Nadal was remarkable, perhaps more impressive was the way he backed it up with a straight-set win over hard-hitting Russian Andrey Rublev to advance to the semifinals and giving American tennis fans hope that this would be the year a U.S. player breaks the drought. No American has won the US Open since Andy Roddick in 2003, and no Black player has won it since Ashe in 1968.

Tiafoe was so dominant against Rublev that the No. 9 seed was caught on camera sitting with his head in his hands and tears in his eyes during a changeover long before the match was done.

In the semifinal, Tiafoe gave a valiant effort to extend the semifinal match to five sets. But he came up short against sensational 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz. The Spaniard went on to become the youngest player ever to win the US Open.

In his post-match remarks, a tearful Tiafoe apologized to his supporters for coming up short and vowed to come back and win the tournament one day.

“I feel like I let you down,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

It was a heartbreaking moment that choked me up because I had not felt let down at all, even though I so much wanted him to win. In that respect, I doubt I was alone. Tiafoe played his heard out, and that’s all a fan can ask.

I have followed this extremely likeable player ever since he won the Orange Bowl at 15 years old, the youngest champion ever of that prestigious junior event. Since turning pro a year later, he has shown flashes of his supreme athleticism and prodigious talent, while beating some of the top players in the sport.

I want to say to him you didn’t let me down, brother. In fact, you lifted me. I am as proud of you as anyone can be. You proved to the world that you deserve to be included among the ranks of the ATP’s elite players.

You renewed my hope that I will one day see a Black player hoist the men’s winner’s trophy at the US Open. And your sparkling performance helped snap me out of my pandemic-induced doldrums to start writing again by reminding me why I originated this blog in the first place.

Well done, Frances!

Other Notable Highlights of the 2022 US Open:

Welcome back Taylor – Coming back from medical leave, Taylor Townsend teamed up with Caty McNally, Coco Gauff’s regular doubles partner, to reach the women’s doubles finals. They lost to the Czech team of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who completed a career Grand Slam, with the victory. Earlier this year, Townsend reached the semifinal of the French Open with Madison Keys.

Earning his keep – Atlanta native and former Georgia Tech standout Christopher Eubanks played his way through the qualifiers into the main draw. He made it to the second round and walked away with a check for at least $121,000 (qualifying pay not included).

Doing it again – Indian-American doubles specialist Rajiv Ram won his second consecutive US Open doubles crown with British partner Joe Salisbury. He also has an Australian Open doubles title and two Australian Open mixed titles with Barbora Krejcikova.

Coach’s son in the spotlight – After winning the NCAA Division I men’s singles championship as a University of Florida junior, Ben Shelton decided to forgo his senior year and turn pro. The son of former professional tennis player and current Florida tennis coach Bryan Shelton was awarded a wildcard entry into this year’s Open. He lost in five sets in the first round of his maiden major competition. But during the match he hit a serve at 139 mile per hour, tied for the second fastest of the tournament. A couple weeks earlier, he upset this year’s US Open finalist Casper Ruud at an ATP Master’s 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. It appears Shelton is another young black player to watch.

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4 thoughts on “As Serena exits, Coco and Frances shine

  1. Great recap Larry! It was indeed a great tournament! We were there on the Sunday evening, the 4th, and had so hoped Serena had made it through so that we could have seen her in person. None-the-less, I am still so proud of all of the POC players. “Say it loud, …”

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