News

Tiafoe Overcomes Bagel Set To Reach Tokyo Final

American will play for second ATP Tour title in Sunday's final

Frances Tiafoe saw his perfect set record this week in Tokyo shattered as he conceded a shocking 6-0 second set in Saturday’s semi-finals. But the in-form American made sure the middle stanza would be a mere footnote as he regrouped for a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 victory against Soonwoo Kwon at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.

"It was a weird match, but I'm happy to get through," said Tiafoe, who is into his second final of the season and his fifth overall. "It's not always going to be pretty, it's not always going to be the best stuff, but a win is what matters."

In a rematch of their meeting at the Tokyo Olympics last July, won by Tiafoe at the same Ariake Tennis Park venue, the fourth seed powered through the opening set without facing a break point. Kwon did the same in the second, dropping just three points on serve on his way to the shutout set.

"A little bit of a loose game, I got broken [early] in that second set, but he started definitely picking up his level," the American said. "Then after that he was playing really well. I let the set go a little bit as well, but he was playing really well."

The South Korean ran his tally to seven games in a row and threatened for eight with a break point at 1-0 in the final set, but Tiafoe found his footing to halt Kwon's charge at the crucial moment. Two aces and a backhand swinging-volley winner put the American on the board in the decider as he escaped 30/40.

"I definitely picked up my level and my intensity in the third set," Tiafoe said. "I think holding there at 1-0 was huge, with an ace there down break point. That really turned the match around. I just got a lot more energised."

On return at 2-2, Tiafoe brought up his second break chance of the game after claiming a cat-and-mouse point in which both men scrambled back and forth between the net and baseline. He converted when a Kwon volley floated long, then padded his lead with another break he tracked down a lob and managed a spinning backhand, which his opponent incorrectly chose not to play back.

That would not be the final twist, as Kwon got one break back to close to 4-5, but Tiafoe made no mistake on his second attempt to serve out the match, winning four points in a row from 0/15 to seal progress to the second ATP 500 final of his career (Vienna 2021).

The American will face third seed Taylor Fritz or seventh seed Denis Shapovalov in Sunday’s championship match. Tiafoe's run in the Japanese capital has lifted him two spots to No. 17 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, and the American could rise as high as No. 15 should he lift his second ATP Tour title (Delray Beach 2018). Either mark would be a new career high for the 24-year-old.

Kwon was seeking his second tour-level final after his 2021 title run in Astana. In his Tokyo main-draw debut, the World No. 120 became the lowest-ranked semi-finalist at the ATP 500 since World No. 140 Bohdan Ulihrach in 2004.