NEW YORK — Carlos Alcaraz and Frances Tiafoe engaged in a high-energy spectacle of a back-and-forth semifinal at the US Open — no point over when it appeared to be, no ball out of reach, no angle too bold.
One sequence was so stuffed with “What?! How?!” moments by both men that the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd was on its feet before it was over and remained there, clapping and cavorting, through a replay on the video screens.
In the end, enough of the winners went Alcaraz’s way, and too many of the errors came from Tiafoe’s racket. And so it was Alcaraz who surged into his first Grand Slam final – and in the process gave himself a chance to become No. 1 at the age of 19 – by ending Tiafoe’s run at Flushing Meadows with a 6-7 (6) , 6-3, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win Friday night.
“It was so electric. I mean, tennis definitely matched the hype of the match. Unbelievable shot, shot, extended points, crazy shots … at crazy times,” Tiafoe said. “Yeah, I was getting upset.”
Alcaraz looked to seize control by grabbing nine out of 10 games in a stretch and could have ended the night when he held a match point in the fourth set. But Tiafoe, who is ranked 26th, saved it and soon shouted, with some colorful language thrown in for emphasis, “I’m putting my heart on the line!” Shortly after that, Tiafoe forced a fifth set by improving to a US Open record 8-0 in tiebreaks.
However, Alcaraz showed no signs of fatigue despite playing a third consecutive five-setter, including a 5-hour, 15-minute quarterfinal victory that ended at 02.50 on Thursday, the latest finish in the history of the tournament. He was better when he needed to be, taking four of the last five games.
“I feel good right now,” Alcaraz said nearly two hours after beating Tiafoe, then added, “I mean, a little bit tired.”
Now No. 3 Alcaraz will face No. 7 Casper Ruud for the championship on Sunday with so much at stake: The winner will become a major champion for the first time and lead the rankings next week.
“It’s great to be able to fight for big things,” Alcaraz said.
Alcaraz and Tiafoe were both making their major semifinal debuts and offered an unusually entertaining performance for a little more than a set and a little more than an hour at the start, then again in the latter part of the fourth and the beginning of the fifth.
Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland who eliminated 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, played to a sellout crowd of more than 23,000 that included former first lady Michelle Obama, who often asked for and received more noise. No surprise as he was the first American man in the semifinals at Flushing Meadows in 16 years.
“I feel like I let you guys down,” Tiafoe said during an unusual chance for a game’s loser to address the crowd in a courtside interview. “This one hurts. This one really, really hurts.”
Alcaraz, who hails from Spain, is popular worldwide, recognized as a future star of the sport, and is now the youngest US Open men’s finalist from any country since Pete Sampras won the trophy aged 19 in 1990.
When Alcaraz went up 2-0 in the fourth, the crowd cheered him on with a soccer-style chant of “Olé, Olé, Olé! Carlos!”
“People love to watch that guy play, so they got behind him, too,” Tiafoe said. “Obviously I would have loved to win tonight, but I think tennis won tonight. I think the crowd got what they expected. I just wish I was the one who got’ W’.”
Speaking afterwards, first in English, then in Spanish, Alcaraz told his supporters they were helping him fight for “every point, every ball” and tapped his chest as he said this was “for my family, for my team, for me, for all of you.”
There were so many memorable exchanges and scenes between Tiafoe and Alcaraz. One arrived in the third game of the second set when Alcaraz saved a break point and went on to hold. A smiling Tiafoe jokingly climbed over the net to Alcaraz’s side as if to shake hands at the end of the match.
If this semi-final had actually ended right then and there, no one could have complained about the product. It would continue for a total of 4 hours, 19 minutes.
They wore matching shirts — red on the front, white on the back, burgundy on the side — and each matched each other for long stretches, including until 6-all in the opening tiebreaker.
Alcaraz, who by then had already saved four set points, offered a fifth by sending a backhand wide, then made the conversion easy for Tiafoe on a double fault. As the crowd roared, Alcaraz put his head down, walked to his sideline seat and hit his equipment bag with his racket.
He regrouped and broke to go up in the second set and a decisive moment arrived with Alcaraz serving at 5-3 but facing a break point. He grabbed a forehand crosscourt winner to erase that chance for Tiafoe, which started a run in which Alcaraz grabbed 11 straight points and 19 of 22 to own the set and a 4-0 lead in the third.
As on that forehand, Alcaraz often rips the ball with abandon – and somehow also with precision, aiming for the lines and finding them. He won at least three points in the first set with shots that caught the outside edge of the white paint with no margin to spare.
After one, Tiafoe moved into a light-hearted little exchange with Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who was briefly No. 1 himself. But make no mistake: Alcaraz is not a laid-back baseliner. He has a varied, all-court game and showed off his skills by winning points via acrobatic volleys, feathered drop shots and perfectly parabolic lo.bs.
Apart from that break in the second and third sets, and late in the fifth, Tiafoe was also outstanding, having the time of his life throughout.
“I’m coming back,” Tiafoe said, “and I’m going to win this thing one day.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.