Friday, October 16, 2015

U.S. phenoms, 17, reach Fairfield Challenger semis

Frances Tiafoe outlasted Darian King in a grueling match.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. -- Of the United States' many top men's prospects, 17-year-olds Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz might be the best.
   Both reached the semifinals of the Fairfield $50,000 Men's Pro Challenger but in contrasting fashion today at In Shape: Fairfield Rancho Solano.
   Tiafoe, a Washington, D.C.-area product, outlasted longtime friend Darian King of Barbados 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4 in a grueling, 2-hour, 36-minute battle in 81-degree (27.2 Celsius) heat.
   Fritz, from Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area, dismissed eighth-seeded Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia 6-4, 6-1 in 1 hour, 10 minutes to extend his Challenger winning streak to eight matches.
   Fritz, who won last week's $100,000 Sacramento Challenger, has lost only five games in each of his three matches in Fairfield.
   Tiafoe will face third-seeded Dustin Brown, who defeated friend and fellow German Daniel Brands, seeded seventh, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1. Brown is 2-0 lifetime against Rafael Nadal, winning both times, on grass, and Brands is 1-1 against Roger Federer.
   Fritz will meet fourth-seeded Blaz Rola, a Slovenian who routed fifth-seeded Jared Donaldson, 19, of Irvine, Calif., 6-1, 6-2 in 57 minutes. Donaldson lost to Fritz in the Sacramento final.
  The 6-foot-4 (1.93-meter) Fritz saved all three break points he faced against Kavcic, who double-faulted eight times.
Taylor Fritz extended his Challenger winning streak
to eight matches. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Rola, a 6-foot-4 (1.88-meter) left-hander, turned pro after winning the 2013 NCAA singles title as a junior at Ohio State. He won 23 of 25 points (92 percent) on his first serve and faced no break points against Donaldson.
   Both semifinals will be first-time matchups.
   Tiafoe improved to 4-0 against King. All of the matches have come this year, and all have gone to three sets.
   King beat the No. 2 seed in the first round in Sacramento (Kyle Edmund of Great Britain) and Fairfield (Ryan Harrison). At 23, he is six years older than Tiafoe and ranked two spots higher at No. 253.
   Today, Tiafoe pounded shots into the corners with his whipping forehand and laser backhand, yet  the dogged King retrieved most of them.
   "Damian is a great player," said Tiafoe, who won the Orange Bowl at 15 in 2013 to become the youngest champion in the prestigious junior tournament's 67-year history. "He's been playing really well the last couple of weeks, going for his shots, and obviously he's one of the steadiest players you can possibly play.
   "I'm definitely happy to get to the semis. I haven't been doing too well in Challengers lately. I've been losing in the first and second round, but I've still been working hard. I'm happy the work finally is paying off and I'm going deep. I'm playing well, and hopefully I can keep doing it."
   After King held serve in the first game of the third set on Tiafoe's loose backhand into the bottom of the net, Tiafoe muttered, "I'm done. I'm done."
   "That was just me being an idiot," Tiafoe explained. "I wasn't going anywhere. I was going to keep competing no matter what. That was just me being immature."
King said he became "too defensive" in the third set. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Gaining a second wind, Tiafoe broke King twice to lead 5-2 in the third set. He then was broken at love, and King held for 4-5.
   Tiafoe, serving for the match again, double-faulted on the first point but won the next four points to end the tense affair. On the last two points, the 6-foot-2 (1.88-meter) Tiafoe blasted an ace and a service winner.
   "He attacked me (in the third set)," said King, who has known Tiafoe for 11 years. "I got a little too defensive. On the big points, I doubted myself. That's something for me to go back and work on. But he played well. He has great weapons."
   Tiafoe's first service break in the third set gave him a 2-1 lead. From deuce, King double-faulted, then missed his first serve and slugged a forehand long.
   King conceded that his serve let him down in the game.
   "As I always tell my coach (King's brother, Chris), something goes bad for me every time I go deep in a tournament," King lamented. "But every match is a learning experience. There's nothing to be down about. Just back to practice and work on it."
  The 30-year-old Brown spent exactly one hour less on the court than Tiafoe but got off it four hours later.
  Brown and Brands, both 6-foot-5 (1.96 meters), combined for 32 aces and 16 double faults. Brown had 21 and 10, respectively.
   Brown must improve his ranking about 10 places from No. 110 to ensure a berth in the main draw of the Australian Open in January.
   "I've never even hit with Dustin," Tiafoe said. "I'm good friends with him. He's a crazy player. You never know what shot he's going to hit, but he's a big server. The next round is going to be tough."
At In Shape: Fairfield Rancho Solano
Singles quarterfinals
   Blaz Rola (4), Slovenia, def. Jared Donaldson (5), United States, 6-1, 6-2.  
   Frances Tiafoe, United States, def. Darian King, Barbados, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-4.
   Taylor Fritz, United States, def. Blaz Kavcic (8), Slovenia, 6-4, 6-1. 
   Dustin Brown (3), Germany, def. Daniel Brands (7), Germany, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1.  
Doubles semifinal
    Johan Brunstrom, Sweden, and Frederik Nielsen (2), Denmark, def. Dean O'Brien and Ruan Roelofse (3), South Africa, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5) [10-4].
Saturday's schedule
Stadium Court
(Starting at noon)
   Dustin Brown (3), Germany, vs. Frances Tiafoe, United States.
   Blaz Rola (4), Slovenia, vs. Taylor Fritz, United States.
   Carsten Ball, Australia, and Dustin Brown (1), Germany, vs. Mitchell Krueger and Tennys Sandgren (4), United States.

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