Without Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and their combined 40 Grand Slam titles at this year’s U.S. Open, the rest of the field is “hungry” and “foaming at the mouth” to win matches and advance in the draw.
So says American Frances Tiafoe, who took out No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev in the third round before losing to Canadian No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round late Sunday night, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4.
“You don’t have Roger, Rafa,” Tiafoe said. “Guys are hungry, guys are like, The f—king Open, I got to f—king push.”
He added: “I definitely think guys are trying extra hard, because there is [no] Roger, Rafa. I truly believe that. I see guys foaming in the mouth, pretty funny to watch, I’m in the locker room cracking up.”
Of course, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic is playing at the Open and stands just four match-wins from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the Grand Slam. Djokovic is set to face American Jenson Brooksby in the fourth round on Monday night at 7 p.m. Brooksby is one of three Americans on the card on Labor Day, along with No. 22 seed Reilly Opelka, the huge-serving 7-footer who faces Lloyd Harris of South Africa, and Shelby Rogers, who knocked off world No. 1 Ash Barty on Saturday and faces British 18-year-old Emma Raducanu Monday afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
But with the “Big 3” reduced to a “Big 1,” Tiafoe sees everyone trying harder.
He pointed to 37-year-old Italian veteran Andreas Seppi, who reached the third round before losing in four tough sets to German qualifier Oscar Otte.
“You have Seppi like 37 playing 15-13 in the fifth [in his first-round match],” Tiafoe said. “What’s that about? Crazy. His 19th U.S. Open, he’s putting his heart on the line. He’s probably not doing that if he plays Rafa the second round, probably, like, I’m done.”
Speaking of Nadal, 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who defeated No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round and has been called Nadal’s hear apparent, is now through to the quarterfinals after defeating German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk in five sets on Sunday. Alcaraz will next face 21-year-old Auger-Aliassime, with the winner through to the semifinals.
Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands became just the third qualifier ever to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals when he beat No. 11 Diego Schwartzman in five sets. He has earned $425,000 for making the quarters, life-changing money for a qualifier.
He will next face No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, whom many consider the man with the best chance of beating Djokovic.
It’s the first time that three qualifiers have made the Round of 16 of a major singles draw since 1995 at Roland Garros.
“You have qualifiers in the run of 16, like tennis, like there is no bumps,” Tiafoe said. “Everyone’s good. Like if you don’t show up to play, you can lose to anyone.”
Medvedev said his goal — and the goal of everyone else who might face Djokovic at the U.S. Open — is to beat him and prevent him from winning his record-setting 21st major and the Grand Slam.
“Yeah, well since I’m here I want to say I’m going to try my best to keep it at 20 for all of them,” Medvedev said, referring to Djokovic, Rafael and Federer being tied at 20 majors. “Tennis is about winning tournaments and winning matches, [Djokovic] is very good at it so I’m sure Novak wants 45 Slams and [to] play until [he’s] 55.”
No one can pinpoint exactly when the “Big 3” Era will end. It’s unclear if Federer, 40, will play again after saying he will miss “many months” after undergoing yet another knee surgery, while Nadal, 35, is done for 2021 with a foot injury.
“Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are the greatest of all time,” No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev, who could play Djokovic in the semifinals, said at the Open. “Obviously they are not finished yet. They are all going to still be playing tennis. I think after the injury comeback, they’re going to come back even stronger.”
Yet tennis carries on without Federer and Nadal for now, and the other players want to win major titles of their own.
“Anyone can beat anyone,” Tiafoe said. “Look, I’m 50 in the world. I’m beating all these kind of guys.”