Frances Tiafoe had never played a No. 1, had never beaten anyone in the Top 5, and now he'd just won a tiebreaker against Novak Djokovic to level their second-round match at the Australian Open.
Full of animation in his courtside chair, Tiafoe took the court and said what was obvious to everyone watching: "I love this."
Tiafoe, a 23-year-old American who reached the quarterfinals here two years ago, threw everything he could at eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic. He pulled the crowd into the contest, too. But it wasn't quite enough, with the defending champion winning 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (2), 6-3 in a 3 1/2-hour afternoon match on Rod Laver Arena.
The fourth set was on serve and appeared headed for another tiebreaker when Tiafoe was given a time violation on his serve. He lost his temper, and ultimately the game. He didn’t win another game in the match, which finished with a double-fault.
Tiafoe shook his head, then jogged to the net to embrace Djokovic. He'll take plenty from this.
Djokovic bowed, touched the court with his hand, and then went into his more customary celebrations.
"Very tough match. Difficult conditions. While we had sun on the court, it was very, very warm. A lot of long rallies," Djokovic said Wednesday. "I want to give a hand to Frances for a very tough fight. It was a fantastic match on his part."
Djokovic served 26 aces, Tiafoe 23. Djokovic had the edge in terms of winners (56-49) and converted five of his breakpoint chances, while Tiafoe converted two of his three.
After taking a quick look at the stats, Djokovic said he couldn't remember serving more aces, or seeing more serves pass him.
"It’s not the first time that I’m in this kind of situation, I know how to handle these kinds of circumstances," Djokovic said in his on-court TV interview. "He gave it his all."
Dominic Thiem, who lost the final here last year to Djokovic but went one better to win the U.S. Open, eased through the second round with a 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 win over Donimik Koepfer.
Three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian Open champion, wasted a big lead in the fifth-set tiebreak — and three match points — before losing 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (9) to Marton Fucsovics. Five unforced errors in the last seven points of the tiebreaker cost him the match.
Serena Williams kept her bid for a 24th Grand Slam singles title on track, making only 11 unforced errors as she swept Nina Stojanovic 6-3, 6-0.
But a 21st trip to Melbourne Park ended painfully for her older sister, Venus Williams.
The seven-time major winner was trailing 1-5 in the opening set against Sara Errani when she landed awkwardly on her ankle as she approached the net for a volley. She fought back tears before receiving treatment on the ankle, and gamely continued, hobbling between points, before losing 6-1, 6-0.
The 40-year-old Williams was making her 88th Grand Slam main draw appearance, the most among women in the Open era.
Former U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, coming back from 15 months out with injury, became the latest top-10 player to be beaten by veteran Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan.
The eighth-seeded Andreescu’s power was no match for Hsieh’s shotmaking in a second-round upset, 6-3, 6-2.
Andreescu, a 20-year-old Canadian, seemed befuddled by the 35-year-old Hsieh’s unorthodox game, which includes a two-handed forehand and an unpredictable mix of pace and placement.
"She can literally redirect any single ball you give her," Andreescu said. "She can change the rhythm. I can change the rhythm too, but she’s on another level, at least today."
Hsieh is ranked 71st and has a history of inconsistency. But she’s 8-2 against top 10 players, including two wins over the reigning world No. 1 Simona Halep at Wimbledon in 2018, and Naomi Osaka at Miami in 2019.
"It’s strange — I normally feel more excited to play with better players," Hsieh said.
Another Canadian mounting a comeback also lost. Rebecca Marino, a former top-40 player competing in a major tournament for the first time in eight years, was beaten by No. 19-seeded Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 7-5.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the 2019 Australian Open runner-up, lost to Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 1-6, 6-1. Garbiñe Muguruza, the Australian Open runner-up last year, defeated Liudmila Samsonova 6-3, 6-1.
Ann Li, a 20-year-old American, reached the third round for the second major in a row by beating Alize Cornet 6-2, 7-6 (6). No. 7-seeded Aryna Sabalenka eliminated Daria Kasatkina 7-6 (5), 6-3.
In men’s play, No. 11 Denis Shapovalov beat veteran Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 and his fellow Canadian Milos Raonic held off Corentin Moutet 6-7 (1), 6-1, 6-1, 6-4.
No. 8 Diego Schwartzman and No. 20 Felix Auger-Aliassime were among the seeded men to advance.