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NEW YORK — The massive absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal might be creating a feistier men’s field at the US Open.
At least that’s what American Frances Tiafoe saw in the first week of the calendar’s last Grand Slam, where there were plenty of competitive five-setters and some unexpected runs by unseeded men.
“You don’t have Roger, Rafa,” Tiafoe said after falling 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-4 to 12th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday in the fourth round. “So guys are hungry.
“Guys are like, there’s a f—ing opening, like I got to f—ing push.”
With Federer and Nadal — and their combined 40 Grand Slam trophies — sitting at home while rehabbing injuries, the men’s field finds itself jockeying to try to stop top-seeded Novak Djokovic from winning a calendar Grand Slam and 21st major.
Tiafoe says the players sense the kind of opportunity to go deep in a slam that hasn’t been there during the Big Three era.
“I definitely think guys are trying extra hard, because there is [no] Roger, Rafa. I truly believe that,” he said. “I see like guys are foaming in the mouth, like it’s pretty funny to watch. I’m in the locker room cracking up.”
Two unseeded men, Spain’s teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz and the Netherlands’ Botic van de Zandschulp, reached the quarterfinals on Sunday. Alcaraz, 18, followed up his stunning upset of third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas by becoming the youngest man to reach the quarters at the Open since 1963 after outlasting qualifier Peter Gojowczyk of Germany, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-0.
And van de Zandschulp — part of a trio of qualifiers who reached the fourth round — became just the third male qualifier to advance to the quarters at the Open after upsetting No. 11 Diego Schwartzman, 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1.
Three more unseeded men have a chance to advance to the quarters. Tiafoe doesn’t think it’s a fluke that there are players doing things they might not have been able to do at Flushing Meadows if Federer and Nadal were playing.
“You have [Andreas] Seppi, like 37 [years old], playing like 15-13 in the fifth [-set tiebreaker in the first round],” Tiafoe said of Seppi, who reached the third round. “What’s that about? Crazy. His 19th US Open, he’s putting his heart on the line.
“He’s probably not doing that if he is playing Rafa [in] the second round. Probably, like, I’m done. It’s unreal.”
Auger-Aliassime, who will play Alcaraz next, is part of the next generation of tennis players who hope to taste the kind of success Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have had. He admits to sensing the opportunity created by the Federer-Nadal void.
“Coming in this US Open, we knew it was going to be intense,” the Canadian said. “We knew there was going to be lots at stake. On the one hand we have Novak trying to achieve history and we have guys that now have multiple Grand Slam finals, with the likes of [Daniil] Medvedev, [Alexander] Zverev, Tsitsipas who lost, but all these guys that are really hungry, and myself, to be in the big stage and to win these type of tournaments.”
“For sure I think myself and all the other young players are hungry to do more, and to take the spot of the others.”
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