MELBOURNE – Frances Tiafoe had never played a No. 1, had never beaten anyone in the Top 5, and now he'd just won a tiebreaker against Novak Djokovic to level their second-round match at the Australian Open.
He nodded and motioned for more noise before plonking down in his courtside chair and saying what everyone watching already knew: “I love this. ... I love it!”
That lasted right up until the pivotal moment in the fourth set, serving at 3-all, 30-all, when he walked to the side of the court to get a towel, dry his face, and didn't resume play before the countdown clock ran out. He was given a time violation by the chair umpire, and docked a serve.
He lost that game, and didn't win another.
The 23-year-old American, quarterfinalist here two years ago, threw everything he could at Djokovic. But it wasn't quite enough to beat the eight-time Australian Open champion, who won the 3 1/2-hour afternoon match 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 6-3.
“I felt like that kind of broke the match, honestly," Tiafoe said. “And he ran off with it.
“Hats off to him, but that was a terrible ending to the match, to such a high-quality match.”
Tiafoe shook his head after finishing the match with a double-fault, then jogged to the net to embrace Djokovic. He’ll take plenty from this. He said he knows he can compete at this level.