Twenty Year Old Francis Tiafoe Lit it Up in Delray Beach
While this past week on the ATP tour lacked a lot of the big names that tend to headline the top of the men's game, some great storylines from Rio, Marseille and Delray Beach are setting the stage from some breakouts in 2018.
1. Francis Tiafoe Tears it Up at Delray Beach
Francis showed up, even though you didn't...Let's be real, you probably didn't watch this week's action at Delray Beach, and we don't blame you. It can often be a snoozefest headlined by underwhelming American players serving their way to an ATP250 title that no one really cares about. Fortunately, for those of us who were paying attention, Delray Beach didn't end with a John Isner v Ivo Karlovic dumpfest of a final and instead marked a hell of a week for 20 year old American hopeful Francis Tiafoe.
What You Missed...20 years old and ranked 91 in the world coming into the tournament, Tiafoe's chances looking increasingly bleak when the draw came out, pitting him against 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. Not only did Tiafoe take out Del Potro in a nervy 7-6 4-6 7-5 battle, he went on to take out Australian Open semi-finalist Hyeong Chung and rising start Denis Shapovalov, before handling German Peter Gojowczyk in a lopsided final. This was Tiafoe's maiden ATP title and he absolutely earned it. Get that paper kid.
The Takeaway...US tennis fans have reason to hope. No more perrenial let downs by the likes of John Isner, Jack Sock and Sam Querrey, who let's be real, none of us really like all that much. Tiafoe has the strength, athleticism and poise to be a top player, but until this week has lacked the consistency to string together big wins against top players. This week has proven that the young kid from College Park is here to stay and that he has what it takes to be a mainstay on the ATP tour. It may take a few more years for him to come into his own and really start making a dent at the top of the game, but expect big things from this kid. And if you haven't read his backstory, do so here, it's captivating and very far from the norm in the world of professional tennis.
2. Diego vs Goliaths
Standing tall at 5-7...Diego Shwartzman ran train on the competition down in Rio, claiming the ATP500 title without dropping a set. He dispatched two veterans and former top players in Gael Monfils and then Fernando Verdasco in the final on his way to the title and showed the rest of the tennis world that he can be a real threat on the dirt. Shwartzman was fortunate that Verdasco dispatched former Rio champion and his good friend Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals, but take nothing away from the guy. He is doing to players what David Ferrer did on tour for the better part of a decade, make a lot of balls and play smart tennis. Despite the fact that I kind of hate watching him play, he is showing that there is a lot more to winning a tennis match than raw power and flashy shotmaking.
The Takeaway...Honestly, Diego seems like he would be a pretty cool dude to hang out with. In the offseason, he'd probably be down to throw back a few beers and spray-paint his neighbor's mailbox just for shits. But then would also be up the next morning at 6am running sprints and doing crunches in the blazing heat. Anywho, still don't love watching the guy play, just as it always really pissed me off when Ferrer would beat top players deep into majors, because we know he is never going to have the firepower to win a major, but all in all he seems like a good guy and I'll root for him to go deep into majors until he plays someone who's more fun to watch (I was pulling for a Monfils vs Verdasco final).
3. Khachanov Can Ball
Sometimes One-Dimensional Works...I have been bearish on Karen Khachanov for a while now. The big 21 year old Russian has shown that he has the serve, forehand and power to make waves on the ATP tour, but I have always been worried that his game is too one-demensional to get it done against the top guys. This week didn't utterly change that for me, beating the king of one-dimensional tennis Tomas Berdych in the semis and Lucas Pouille in the final, but a title is a title nontheless and stringing together good wins against talented players is no easy feat, so hats off to you Karen.
The Takeaway...If this week proved anything, it is that the young guns on tour are not going away. Tiafoe (20), Shwartzman (25) and Khachanov (21) took out a slew of ATP tour veterans and headliners in Monfils, Berdych, Verdasco and del Potro on their ways to their respective titles. These guys are here to stay so we better get used to watching them play because unfortunately, the likes of Federer, Nadal, Murray and crew are going to be gone from the tour before we know it. The future of tennis is here, so sit back and enjoy your beer with Diego Schwartzman.