- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Frances Tiafoe’s first match at the 2022 Citi Open displayed the increased consistency he’s seeking in his tennis as the U.S. Open approaches.

In a highly competitive second-round match Wednesday night, the Hyattsville native and the tournament’s 10-seed defeated fellow American Christopher Eubanks, 6-3 7-6(2).

“I’m just more locked in, and also I’m enjoying it a bit more,” Tiafoe said. “I’m kind of letting the game come to me, just playing, and I know what I’m able to do. I think it’s just going out there and doing it.”

“I’m just kind of doing me, and, yeah, let my racquet kind of do its thing,” he said.

The two played a first-round match at last year’s U.S. Open, won by Tiafoe in four sets. This best-of-three contest was similarly tight, and the friendship and collegiality between the two Americans was evident, even if Tiafoe joked that Eubanks likes to talk a lot.

“I want to see him get in the top 100. I think his game is so much better than what his ranking says,” Tiafoe said. “I think he‘s got a great serve, really great forehand…I want to see him do well.”

Tiafoe would make quick work of his first-set service games — he didn’t face a break point in the frame — and won the set in just under a half-hour.

Eubanks started strong on his serve, his lengthy, 6’7” frame helping to place balls deep and near the edges of the service court. Those took Tiafoe a little time to get used to, but not long.

On Eubanks’ serve at 2-all in the first set, Big Foe got up early, earning three break-point opportunities. Eubanks fought off the first two, one with an ace. But on the third point, Tiafoe hustled to the net on a Eubanks stroke that hit the net cord, pumping a forehand into the opposite corner to win the game

“Today I was much more ready and knew kind of how he played and shots he likes to hit,” Tiafoe said. “I thought I came out playing really well.”

Eubanks continued to play at a competitive level, and forced his first chance to break at 3-all in the second set after a return winner off of a 128 mile-per-hour serve from Tiafoe.

As Tiafoe walked to the corner, another sold-out Fitzgerald Tennis Center crowd gave him a boost of appreciation in facing his only real adversity of the match.

The Marylander steadied to get the game to deuce and the hold, as Eubanks committed three unforced errors to fall behind 3-4. He’d make 24 unforced errors in the match, and one would give Tiafoe a match point in the second set at 30-40 down 4-5. 

The Georgia Tech alum erased it, and pushed the match to a second-set tiebreak, but Tiafoe would dominate the extra points 7-2 to move on.

“Hopefully he can start playing some really good tennis,” Tiafoe said. “He definitely has a good level. You saw today. I thought he played a good level. It’s all between the ears.”

Tiafoe’s next opponent is Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, the 8th seed here and the player just ahead of him in the world rankings at No. 26. The demands on Tiafoe are sure to increase as he moves through the tournament — he secured 56 tickets for friends and family just to see his first Citi Open match.

“I keep telling my agent, ‘Yeah, this is the last one, last one,’” Tiafoe said as his phone lit up with messages. “It’s good. I had 56 reasons why I wanted to win today. A lot of people came to see me play.”

• George Gerbo can be reached at ggerbo@washingtontimes.com.

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