NEW YORK — There was not much drama involved in Frances Tiafoe’s second-round victory at the U.S. Open on Wednesday night. He quickly grabbed a lead and never let go. He faced only one break point — and saved it. He volleyed terrifically. His outmatched opponent needed some help from a trainer for a bothersome neck.
And you couldn’t escape the feeling that the 10th-seeded Tiafoe was having the time of his life. This is where he wants to be, no matter the details of the match. Under the lights at a Grand Slam tournament, absorbing the attention of thousands of folks in the Arthur Ashe Stadium stands and reciprocating the love while getting past Sebastian Ofner of Austria 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 in a tad more than 1 1/2 hours.
“I love it. I love it. I love all of it. I love the one-on-one battle. You’re putting your heart on the line. Everyone’s there to watch you and one other guy. You’re competing like crazy. Everyone’s anticipating the match. And it’s like, ‘Who wants it more?’” Tiafoe, a 25-year-old Marylander, said during an interview before the U.S. Open. “If you don’t love that, it’s the wrong sport for you. I just absolutely love being in those positions and those atmospheres.”
He knew this was Ofner’s U.S. Open debut and said after Wednesday’s encounter that he wanted to use “the environment to my advantage.”
Tiafoe took a step forward on a day two highly seeded men exited on his half of the draw: No. 5 Casper Ruud, last year’s runner-up, and No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas. With No. 4 Holger Rune out in the first round, three of the tournament’s top seven men already are gone.
A year ago at Flushing Meadows, Tiafoe’s career changed and his life did, too. He beat Rafael Nadal in the fourth round along the way to reaching the semifinals of a major for the first time, then pushed eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz to the limit before bowing out.
All the way, the fans — including some well-known ones, such as former first lady Michelle Obama and NBA All-Star Bradley Beal — showered Tiafoe with affection. And he certainly enjoyed basking in that adulation and the extra attention that came with his higher profile, including a role in the Netflix docuseries about tennis, “Break Point.”
“I’m totally cool with putting myself fully out there and seeing what happens. Let the chips fall where they may. I love feeling the crowd with me. Everyone paid their hard-earned money to come watch. So I want them to enjoy,” said Tiafoe, who went over to the stands to greet rapper Pusha T, a guest of his, after the triumph over Ofner. “And also, I want to win.”
Next up for Tiafoe is No. 22 Adrian Mannarino of France.
“He’s very tricky. He’s got an unorthodox game style,” Tiafoe said. “I’m ready. I’m ready for him.”