Not many tennis fans would have expected this first-round match to turn into the dramatic blockbuster it was, and even fewer would expect Anderson to come out on top. But the world number 105 recovered from a break down in the second set - and then a match point in the second set tiebreaker - to force a deciding set. Unfortunately for the American, this would be the second time in as many matches that he would not be able to convert a set + break lead into a victory.
Tiafoe entered the match with a strong mentality. He made 63% of his first serves in the first set, and won 65% of those points. Especially impressive was that he won 75% of the points on his second serve. Although Anderson was serving at a strong 78% first serve rate, he faltered in the seventh game of the set and gave Tiafoe one too many looks on his second serve. Tiafoe took his chance and broke the South African, and never gave him a break opportunity for the rest of the set.
The second set started similarly, with the South African losing 4 points in a row in the sixth game to give Tiafoe the break. From there, however, Tiafoe’s intensity dropped along with his first serve percentage, as Anderson broke him to love in the eighth game. Tiafoe immediately broke back after 4 break point opportunities, giving himself the chance to serve out the set. At this point however, Anderson turned it up to eleven, constructing two sublime return points with his groundstrokes at 15-30 to seize the tenth game. Both players then held comfortably to send the second set to a tiebreak.
Credit: Juergen Hasenkopf
Anderson quickly seized a mini-break, but gave it up at 2-1 after slipping mid-stroke. Both players continued trading points, until Tiafoe found himself with a match point on the Anderson serve. The South African refused to back down, instead finding yet another gear on his groundstrokes in the following points. He drew three consecutive errors from the American with deep groundstrokes to steal the second set.
Tiafoe did not feel any momentum shift at the beginning of the deciding set, and for the third time captured the first break. Tiafoe recovered from 0-30 in the next game to hold for a 4-1 lead. Anderson responded superbly, going 2/2 on break points and losing just 2 points on serve to steamroll 4 games in a row. When serving for the match, however, it was the South African’s turn to falter, as he failed to string together enough first serves to hold off the American’s resurgence. The third set sped to a deciding tiebreak with no further break point opportunities.
Anderson’s serve was evidently breaking down in the final set tiebreak. He lost a mini-break to give Tiafoe a 2-1 lead, and after regaining the mini-break lost it again. Tiafoe was leading 4-3 with the possibility of 3 match points on his own racket. At this point in the match Tiafoe’s serve was far superior to Anderson’s, boasting a first serve percentage of 76%. Yet Anderson showed a glimpse of his Grand Slam finalist form, displaying the relentless shotmaking he was capable of to reel off 3 points in a row. At 6-4, Anderson was not willing to prolong the match any longer, and sealed the match with an ace.
This match will be an unwelcome case of déjà vu for Frances Tiafoe, who’s failure to convert another lead will give him a 10-8 record for 2021. Anderson can draw a lot of positives from this match. His mental fortitude was fantastic; he was able to bring his form from 2017 in the tiebreaks when it mattered most, and his groundstroke barrages were a beauty to watch. This match will keep American tennis fans guessing who will be the next face of American tennis. Meanwhile, if Kevin Anderson can extend his 2017 form to the entirety of his matches, his big serving and punishing groundstrokes could make him a candidate to win the whole tournament.
Next match: Kevin Anderson v.s. Kei Nishikori (4/28/2021)
Head to head: 5-4 Nishikori
Written by - Vikram Khandelwal