LONDON: American 23rd seed Frances Tiafoe kept his focus in the face of an Alexander Bublik circus act on Friday to reach the Wimbledon fourth round for the first time.
The 24-year-old punched the air with delight as the crowd-pleasing Bublik double-faulted to seal a 3-6 7-6(1) 7-6(3) 6-4 victory in front an enthralled audience on Court Two.
Kazakhstan’s Bublik is one of the great entertainers in men’s tennis – a rival to Nick Kyrgios in terms of trick shots but without the scowls and controversy.
And he did not disappoint as he dipped in to his box of tricks of dinks, slices and under-arm serves, not forgetting some seriously powerful conventional weaponry.
But Tiafoe, whose game is also spectacular when firing, deservedly took the win to avenge last week’s first-round defeat by Bublik at Eastbourne.
“It was definitely a tough one,” Tiafoe said on court. “At the end, when he was spinning in underarm serves and those antics, I was close to losing my head.
“There is no game plan against that. You’ve just got to take care of your side of the court. It’s not easy because he can hit some crazy shots.”
Bublik held the upper hand when he took the opening set but Tiafoe proved the more reliable in the tiebreaks that ended the next two sets. Bublik appeared to have thrown in the towel when trailing 3-0 in the fourth but it was just a ruse.
The world number 38 delivered virtually every first serve under arm in the following game and when most of them failed to land in the box he followed up with 130mph second serves.
Somehow he held serve and there was pure genius from Bublik in the next few games, including a nonchalant no-look drop shot that provoked a bow to the crowd.
He miraculously retrieved a lob on the way to winning a magical rally with a volley and break serve, before squaring the set at 4-4 with a booming ace.
Tiafoe looked in danger of becoming a prop in the Bublik sideshow and faced a break point at 4-4 but the American banged down an ace and held with a brilliant drop shot reply to a Bublik serve return drop shot.
The crowd wanted the match to go on but Bublik could not hold at 4-5 – leaving the court smiling and to huge cheers.
Tiafoe, only the third active American male player to reach the last 16 at four Grand Slams, will face a more conventional test next against David Goffin or Ugo Umbert.