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Tennis

Frances Tiafoe Was Magic For A Few Days In Vienna

Frances Tiafoe prepares to hit a tennis ball.
Thomas Kronsteiner/Getty Images

Frances Tiafoe played the best and most entertaining tennis of his life last week. Where these two paths might diverge for many players, they were one and the same for this American, at the time ranked No. 49 in the world.

Over a career week at the Vienna Open, marked by upsets over world No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 16 Diego Schwartzman, and No. 11 Jannik Sinner, Tiafoe revealed a gear as yet unseen, getting himself into maximally weird and stressful on-court situations and conjuring up a solution every time. This frenetic brand of tennis is unsustainable almost by definition, but it was glorious for a week. If this sport were any less vengeful about video rights, there would be 25-minute supercut of Tiafoe whaling away at the end range of his ability.

After outgunning and -running three high-seeded opponents, Tiafoe finally exhausted his good fortunes in Sunday’s final loss to Sascha Zverev, 7-5, 6-4. But not before he produced this hilarious dropshot-lob-dropshot combo, which summed up his approach to tennis in Vienna:

He laughed. He collapsed. He mimed chucking his racquet at his opponent. He high-fived the crowd. At least one opponent thought this showed “no respect,” but Tiafoe was unfazed: “I don’t really feel bad for that. Look, I mean the crowd is there for a reason. I’m able to interact with them, I’m able to do whatever. I don’t feel bad for that.”

Tiafoe is working within a rich tradition of tennis entertainers—Gael Monfils, Benoit Paire, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Bublik, to name a few contemporaries—and unlike those gleeful frequent tankers, he manages to combine pure entertainment with a good-faith effort to win the match. It’s been a slow few seasons for the 23-year-old Tiafoe, who flashed early potential but never found consistency. After his week in Vienna, it’s clear that those moments between the inconsistency can still be captivating.