Frances Tiafoe’s Wimbledon revival ends in five-set loss to Carlos Alcaraz

WIMBLEDON, England — As Wimbledon dawned near the end of a long European stay, Frances Tiafoe didn’t quite seem like his usual self. A born entertainer known for his bold tennis and toothy grin, Tiafoe was homesick and hurting. He had split with his coach, Wayne Ferreira, in the fall, and his 2024 had been filled with more losses than wins. In a tuneup tournament ahead of Wimbledon, he sprained his medial collateral ligament.

But nothing ignites Tiafoe like a grand stage, and at Wimbledon, he came alive thanks to a five-set comeback win in the first round and the promise of a tantalizing showdown with three-time Grand Slam champion Carlos Alcaraz in the third — on Centre Court, no less, a rematch of their electric semifinal at the 2022 U.S. Open.

“I got a potential cheeky third round,” Tiafoe said with a smile Monday, before he had even won his second-round match. “You see the draw. I’m looking at that. You get excited for that, right?”

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Excitement goes only so far. Tiafoe started Friday strong, then faded, giving up a two-sets-to-one lead against Alcaraz and losing, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, to the 21-year-old Spaniard.

Even with the defeat, Tiafoe leaves the All England Club feeling like his season is on the upswing. Maybe it’s the promise of returning home for the North American hard-court swing leading into the U.S. Open — Tiafoe’s favorite time of year — or the uplifting aftereffects of playing two sets of strong tennis under bright lights.

At the net after the match, he and Alcaraz were all smiles as they shared a mighty hug.

“Just ultimate respect. Him just saying, ‘It’s good to see you play like that,’” Tiafoe said, smiling. “Me just saying, ‘I can’t stand you.’”

The match was a slugfest at the beginning, morphing from a power duel on the baseline to a fanciful contest of shotmaking as Tiafoe took advantage of Alcaraz’s sleepy start under a closed roof and played — finally — with his usual panache. He asked the crowd for noise, stared at his team in the stands dramatically after missed shots and smiled and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe himself after putting away gutsy winners that drew raucous applause.

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But as Alcaraz woke up, Tiafoe withered. With the match within reach, the American finally seemed to break down in a tiebreaker that followed a tense fourth set.

Alcaraz won the first six points of the tiebreaker, and then Tiafoe, playing with a protective sleeve on his injured right leg, slipped on the grass and fell to his knees, prompting Alcaraz to cross the net out of concern. Tiafoe rose and finished the match but appeared to be unable to move as easily or to summon the gusto needed to close out the world’s third-ranked player.

Tiafoe said the fall didn’t affect his play; his mind did. The 26-year-old was dictating play for much of the fourth set but grew tentative in the high-stakes tiebreaker.

“I’ll remember this one for a while. I still think about when I lost to him in the Open. Twice you’re a set away, you never know what can happen after. Of course, I’m going to think about that. Especially if I want to win one of these things, I got to beat him,” Tiafoe said. “… But I think this one hurts a little more than the Open. I feel like the Open, I was kind of hanging on for dear life. I thought this one was more one I thought was kind of on my racket at times. But in this situation of everything that happened before, leading in, I think this one I can honestly take confidence from and can’t hang my head too low.”

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Tiafoe ends his Wimbledon in the third round for the second straight year but passed two significant milestones here. He came back from two sets down to win his first-round match, which he had never done before, and logged his first match on Centre Court.

The first milestone gave him confidence. The second — playing a player of Alcaraz’s caliber on such hallowed grounds — made him remember that tennis is supposed to be fun. It was a powerful reminder in a year when Tiafoe said he hasn’t always felt his customary joy on the court.

“It was huge for me to be in that environment again and play a match of such high quality. Me coming after one of the best players in the world and putting my game on display at the highest level, a court I’ve never played on, that definitely sparked a huge light under me” he said. “I mean, I had so much fun playing out there. I felt so comfortable. I really thought the match was there for me to take. I just take a lot of confidence from that. It’s something I needed.”

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Alcaraz, for his part, never seems to appear unhappy at a tennis tournament — but he did have a moment of panic Friday when he finally put Tiafoe away after 3 hours 50 minutes. The on-court interviewer at Wimbledon made the mistake of asking Alcaraz whether he was excited for the Spanish national soccer team’s quarterfinal against Germany in the European Championship.

Alcaraz, all of a sudden aware he must have missed the start of the game, frantically looked around Centre Court while asking whether anyone knew the score. The crowd laughed. Alcaraz was serious. (He delayed his news conference until after he was able to watch Spain win.)

Asked whether he had requested a match early in the day, Alcaraz said with a smile that he hadn’t, “because Wimbledon is Wimbledon.

“But I was really happy when I saw that I was playing first match,” he added.

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Having improved his career record in five-set matches to 12-1, Alcaraz advances to face either unseeded American Brandon Nakashima or 16th-seeded Frenchman Ugo Humbert in the fourth round feeling robust physically. Nakashima and Humbert’s match was suspended by rain Friday afternoon, meaning the winner will have even less time to prepare for Alcaraz.

“I am feeling great physically. … In the fifth set, I think I increase my tennis, my level. Feeling great physically help you a lot to, let’s say, play more calm than the opponent,” Alcaraz said. “Feeling much better than the opponent physically, mentally. I know that the other guy has to play at a really high level of tennis intensity in the five set if he wants to beat me.”

Alcaraz was not the only top seed to advance Friday. World No. 2 Coco Gauff beat British qualifier Sonay Kartal, 6-4, 6-0, in just over an hour to set up a meeting with her Olympic teammate Emma Navarro, ranked 17th, in the fourth round.

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The pair have known each other since they were children but have played only once on the pro tour — Gauff defeated Navarro in straight sets in Auckland in January this year.

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