WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Frances Tiafoe had no doubts about his friend Sloane Stephens’ chances on Centre Court against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Monday.
The Americans, both ranked outside the Top 50 at the moment, bumped into each other shortly before their matches against seeded opponents on Day 1 at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
“She was coming up; I was going to practice. I was just like, ‘Sloane, I back you to win today. I’m not even worried about it,’” said Tiafoe, who went up against French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas at No. 1 Court. “She’s cracking up, laughing. She’s like, ’Well, you better do the same thing.′ I was like, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’”
Indeed, there was little to worry about. Both pulled off convincing victories.
Stephens dispatched the No. 10 seed Kvitova 6-3, 6-4, committing only 14 unforced errors, and Tiafoe beat No. 3 Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
“First thing I came off (court), seeing if she won. That made me even happier. I’m happy for both of us,” the 23-year-old Tiafoe said.
People forget, he said, that Stephens is a former US Open champion (2017) and French Open finalist (2018). Her best showing at Wimbledon was in 2013, when she reached the quarterfinals.
“She’s one of the best girls on tour, arguably, when she’s fully there. There’s no gimmick. This is a fact,” he said of Stephens, a former Top 5 player now ranked 73rd.
The 28-year-old Stephens said reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros boosted her confidence.
“Even though obviously it didn’t end the way I wanted it to, I was just feeling more like myself on court,” the Florida-based Stephens said. “I’m just trying to keep the momentum going, trying to find that, like, good, consistent level again.”
Tiafoe should have plenty of momentum after his entertaining match against Tsitsipas in a test of desire — and hunger.
The 57th-ranked Maryland native applied pressure by charging the net, where he won 24 points. Tsitsipas acknowledged that this tactic gave Tiafoe a “psychological lead” and he cited bubble fatigue for a lack of motivation.
Tiafoe said his advantage began even earlier.
“I woke up this morning like, ‘Yeah, I’m beating Stefanos,’” he said at his video conference, wearing a T-shirt with an image of Arthur Ashe in a fur coat.
Tiafoe’s elaborate on-court victory celebration included rolling up his short sleeves, slapping his chest and mimicking eating from a bowl.
“The more matches you win, the better you do, the better the meal is,” he explained. “It’s like, you know, I’m out here trying to eat. Steak dinners aren’t going to pay for themselves. Nice dinners aren’t going to pay for themselves. You got to perform and you got to win.”
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Both outside the top 50, Tiafoe and Stephens take down top-10 players at Wimbledon originally appeared on NBCSports.com