Frances Tiafoe win sets up rare Black male match-up with Felix Auger-Aliassime at U.S. Open

American player Tiafoe reaches the U.S. Open fourth round after taking down Russia's Andrey Rublev

Frances Tiafoe made it to the fourth round of the U.S. Open after defeating Andrey Rublev in a mammoth five-set match that ended in the wee hours of the morning Saturday.

His victory sets up a match with Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, marking the rare occasion of two Black male players facing each another in a Grand Slam tennis match.

Tiafoe, 23, bested Rublev 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1 at Arthur Ashe Stadium in the Queens borough of New York City. The match lasted 3 hours, 45 minutes before ending at 2:14 a.m. Rublev was ranked No. 5 in the tournament, setting up Tiafoe for quite the upset.

This is his second straight year reaching the fourth round, as reported by the Associated Press.

In the next round, Tiafoe will go up against Auger-Aliassime, who is ranked No. 12, on Saturday, according to the tournament’s official site.

Frances Tiafoe, of the United States, reacts after winning the second game in the fifth set against Andrey Rublev, of Russia on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

This match carries numerous historical implications for Tiafoe. Not only is he the first American to reach the second week of play at the U.S. Open in back-to-back seasons since Andy Roddick in 2011 and Mardy Fish in 2012, but his match against Auger-Aliassime, another Black male, is something that doesn’t happen often in the sport.

Although women’s tennis has seen Black players go head-to-head on numerous occasions, most recently with Naomi Osaka battling American Coco Gauff in last month’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Black male tennis players are few and far between.

The last, and only, time a Black male has won the U.S. Open was in 1968 when Arthur Ashe beat Tom Okker of The Netherlands. He is also the last Black player to win a Grand Slam title, which he did in 1975, according to The Undefeated. The U.S. Open stadium in Queens is named after him.

Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime playing Serbia’s Dusan Lajovic at the men’s National Bank Open tennis tournament in Toronto, on Aug. 11, 2021. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP)

Roddick was the last American male to win at the U.S. Open in 2003.

Tiafoe is looking to make the quarterfinals in the U.S. Open for the first time in his career. He’s only reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament once at the 2019 Australian Open, according to his bio.

Tiafoe lost to Rafael Nadal in three straight sets at that competition, as reported by The Guardian. Nadal would go on to reach the finals that year, losing to Novak Djokovic.

While Tiafoe will go forward, Osaka will not. The U.S Open’s defending champion won’t repeat this year after losing her Friday match to Leylah Fernandez in three sets, 5-7, 7-6 (2), 6-4, as reported by ESPN. Osaka, ranked No. 3 in the world among women’s players, was emotional during the post-match press conference.

The 23-year-old has been vocal about her battles with mental health and indicated that she will be taking a break from the sport for an undetermined amount of time.”

“I’m kind of at this point where I’m figuring out what I want to do,” Osaka said in the press conference. “Honestly don’t know when I’m going to play my next tennis match.”

Osaka withdrew from the 2021 French Open and did not play in Wimbledon this summer. 

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