Frances Tiafoe battled past unseeded Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea on Saturday in three sets to reach the Japan Open final — but admitted it was not pretty viewing.
The fourth-seeded Tiafoe won 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 and will play his fellow American Taylor Fritz in Sunday’s final in Tokyo.
Whoever wins will become the first US player to take the Japan Open men’s title since Pete Sampras in 1996.
Tiafoe, the world number 19 who has been in the spotlight since stunning Rafael Nadal to reach the final four at the US Open, said that “it was a weird match, but I’m happy to get through”.
The 24-year-old, whose only previous ATP title came at Delray Beach in 2018, said: “I wasn’t expecting him (Kwon) to play like that.
“He played really fast and really aggressive. He was playing really well, obviously, but a win’s a win, and you take it.”
“It’s not always going to be pretty, it’s not always going to be the best stuff, but a win is what matters,” he added.
Third-seeded Fritz also had to fight for his semi-final win, against Canadian Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-3.
Going into the final “feels amazing”, said Fritz, just days after he emerged from a week of hotel quarantine in Seoul where he came down with Covid-19 and had to pull out of the Korea Open.
“It’s pretty crazy what I’ve been able to accomplish this week, just from thinking that I might not even be able to play this tournament,” said the 24-year-old world number 11.
Fritz said he and Tiafoe were “really close friends, but we’re also rivals”. “It’ll be fun — there’s always tension when we play, it’s going to be a good match,” he added.
Tiafoe said the pair’s friendship had become closer at the Laver Cup in London, where both were in the Rest of the World Team that beat Europe for the first time in the competition’s history.
“He’s a great competitor, he serves well, he has a huge forehand, and he’s confident and getting better too… may the best man win.”—AFP