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Frances Tiafoe advances to fourth round, Nadal up next

Taylor Fritz was the American man who was supposed to make a dent at the 2022 U.S. Open, but he was ousted by a qualifier in Round 1.

Frances Tiafoe, however, still has the magic wand at Flushing Meadows. The 22nd seed advanced to the fourth round for a third straight year and will play Rafael Nadal on Labor Day.

Rallying from a 6-3 hole in the first-set tiebreaker, Tiafoe posted a 7-6 (9-7), 6-4, 6-4 victory Saturday over the scrappy Argentine, Diego Schwartzman.

Tiafoe is the first American male to make the fourth round of three straight Opens since Mardy Fish (2010-12). He did so by coming back from a two-break hole in the first set.

But Tiafoe, who hails from the Washington suburbs, doesn’t want to stop there, even though he’s facing the Spanish legend next.

“I’m not really concerned about getting quarterfinal,’’ Tiafoe said. “I want to go further, right? Yeah, third year running, fourth round, could be worse things, right? That’s pretty good. But I want to go a little further this year.’’

Frances Tiafoe celebrates after his third-round US Open victory.
Frances Tiafoe celebrates after his third-round US Open victory.

Tiafoe has played Nadal just twice — both times in 2019 (including at the Australian Open) and both times resulting in losses. Tiafoe plays with superb pace and great court coverage, but gives away free points.

“I’m definitely a different player from 2019, playing much better,’’ Tiafoe said. “I’m not going to have that first time playing him, excited to play. Now I believe I can beat him. If I end up playing him, I’m definitely going to come after him.’’

Dart fired. It has been a few years since Tiafoe was considered the next young American hopeful. Yet he’s still just 24. His time could be now, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer not at the Open, and Nadal now 36 years old.

Frances Tiafoe hits a forehand during his third-round victory at the U.S. Open.
Frances Tiafoe hits a forehand during his third-round victory at the U.S. Open.
Corey Sipkin

“There’s just a change in guard just in general,” Tiafoe said earlier this week. “Who is going to be that guy, who is going to be that consistent guy that hasn’t really formed yet? Everyone is around the same level, honestly. Everyone is beatable at the same time.

“Even the top guys.’’

Tiafoe attended the first two matches of Serena Williams’ historic journey, and said a few days ago what she’s doing makes his work “irrelevant.’’ But Monday won’t be that at all.

Tiafoe laughed at a remembrance of playing mixed doubles with Williams as his partner in Australia, facing Federer, who bashed two straight aces.

“I don’t know how this guy is acing me,’’ Tiafoe recalled saying to Williams. “She goes, ‘Don’t worry, we’re not going to lose. Even if we do lose, I got 23 [Slams], he’s got 20, so it’s all good.’ ’’

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