NEW YORK — Frances Tiafoe walked to the net and lifted both arms to wrap Alex de Minaur in a sweaty hug as the two players, both under 21, sealed the first of what could be many meetings with an earnest embrace.
Tiafoe ended the best U.S. Open of his young career with a 6-4, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2 second-round loss to the Australian nicknamed “Demon” on Court 17 on Thursday to cap what has been a summer of breakthroughs at the Grand Slams.
At Wimbledon, the Maryland native advanced to the third round in his first entry into the main draw of the tournament, and in New York, he earned his first main-draw win.
Still, he had higher expectations for himself heading into the second round.
“It was nice to get a win . . . but I was expecting a big run here especially after the Wimbledon I had, which ended under tough circumstances,” Tiafoe said. “I thought this U.S. Open was going to be something greater, but it is what it is.”
Tiafoe may be disappointed, but his supporters, especially those at the U.S. Tennis Association, have reason to be encouraged with the 20-year-old’s season. He earned his first ATP Tour title in February and sits fifth in the Tour’s “Next-Gen” rankings. Of the young up-and-coming group on the ATP Tour, Tiafoe is the standout American.
The story of Tiafoe, the child of parents who fled war-torn Sierra Leone, is known locally: He trained at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, a nonprofit that the USTA selected as its first regional training center, while his father worked in maintenance in the facility.
To Martin Blackman, the USTA’s general manager of player development, Tiafoe’s successful year plays an important part in the association shoring up the men’s side of the program. Last year’s U.S. Open featured four American women in the semifinals.
At that level of the sport, the men are far behind. On the men’s side, the USTA is still focused on reinforcing a solid structure that produces Grand Slam champion-level players, such as Sloane Stephens on the women’s side.
“Frances is an example of when things go well, when the partnership with the USTA and the private sector and nonprofits, he’s an example of what we can accomplish,” said Blackman, who served as the JTCC’s director from 2004 to 2007.
“When players make it, there’s always a demonstration effect. . . . Frances, he doesn’t come from a family that wasn’t into tennis. He comes from a tough background, he’s African American, he can relate to kids, he loves tennis — I think that sends a message to the country that, hey, the game is getting much more accessible, and you can see yourself in the game. Frances is an example of a kid you can look up to.”
Tiafoe now is based in Orlando, where he trains at the USTA’s national campus and works with coach Robby Ginepri.
The highly seeded women at the U.S. Open might want to start avoiding Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Four days after No. 1 seed Simona Halep lost her opening-round match and the day after No. 12 seed Garbine Muguruza lost in the tournament’s newest stadium, No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki followed.
The 28-year-old fell, 6-4, 6-2, to unseeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine for her second straight exit in the second round of a Grand Slam. She lost to Ekaterina Makarova in the same round at Wimbledon.
“I guess Wimbledon used to have a Graveyard Court, maybe that is going to be the new Graveyard Court,” Wozniacki said with a smile. “I think it’s a little too early to tell.”
The Dane, who is also the second-ranked woman in the world, pulled out of the Citi Open in Washington and retired from another U.S. Open tuneup tournament in Cincinnati with a knee injury, though she said she felt “100 percent” heading into New York.