American next faces Kecmanovic
Frances Tiafoe won his 13th consecutive tie-break to clinch victory on Thursday in Tokyo, advancing to the quarter-finals for the first time at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.
In a 6-1, 7-6(7) win against Bernabe Zapata Miralles, Tiafoe closed out a high-level second set on his fifth match point. He is through to his sixth ATP Tour quarter-final of the season.
"I think handling those big moments, tie-breaks and stuff like that, [the key is] focussing on what you can focus on and just playing to win, playing aggressive," Tiafoe said, also acknowledging the role of luck in his streak. "I have a lot of shots in the book, so I'm trying to make the match on my terms and have that belief."
The fourth-seeded American has not lost a tie-break since Cincinnati, winning eight in his run to the US Open semi-finals and another two at the Laver Cup, including a trophy-clinching Match Tie-break for Team World.
Against Zapata Miralles, Tiafoe raced to a 4-0 lead in the opening set after saving two break points in his first service game. But the Spaniard raised his level in set two, creating two chances for what could have been a double-break lead at 4-1. Instead, the American got back on serve to set up an eventful close to the pair's first ATP Head2Head meeting.
Tiafoe could not convert on two match points with Zapata Miralles serving at 4-5, then saved a break point on his own serve at 5-5.
A thrilling tie-break included a sumptuous drop volley from Tiafoe and a stunning on-the-run pass from Zapata Miralles as the competitors traded heavy blows in the Ariake Colosseum. With big serves at key moments, Tiafoe never gave his opponent a set point as he closed out the victory.
The American finished the match with 12 aces and a 78 per cent (28/36) win rate on first serve. He saved five of six break points in the one-hour, 32-minute contest.
Tiafoe is now two wins away from matching the run of his coach, South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, to the 1999 Tokyo final.
"Wayne's been pushing me to just keep believing believing myself and believing in my game," said Tiafoe, who was not aware of his coach's success here. "When I'm at my best, I can play with anyone. He's been really pushing that message for me."
Tiafoe, who beat Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama in the opening round, will next face Miomir Kecmanovic. The Serbian saved six match points to defeat eight seed Daniel Evans, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4), later on Thursday.
Did You Know?
The last American to win the Tokyo men's singles title was three-time champion Pete Sampras in 1996.
Photo Credit: Hiroshi Sato