It only took a few minutes after Vincent Millot knocked off Jared Donaldson, the top seed at the Sarasota Open, for his focus to switch from the signature upset he had just completed to the broader future Donaldson represents.
The 20-year-old entered the week at United Tennis Academy ranked No. 73 in the world.
Frances Tiafoe, another American and the No. 3 seed, is the youngest player in the top 100 at 19 years old. In each of the two semifinals, there is an American 25 or younger.
“For a couple of years, it was tough for you guys because you didn’t have so many good Americans,” Millot said. “Now you have, like, a new generation.”
Millot, who is unseeded, pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament Friday by beating one of those Americans he praised. The Frenchman knocked off Donaldson, 6-4, 7-5, at James T. Driscoll Stadium Centre Court to set up a semifinal matchup with Tennys Sandgren, another American who advanced Friday when Denis Kudla was forced to withdraw because of the flu.
In the other semifinal, Tiafoe will square off against Austria’s Jurgen Melzer. Tiafoe topped Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen, the No. 7 seed, 6-3, 6-4. Melzer upset No. 2-seed Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 7-6, 4-1, retired, earlier during the day.
Tiafoe and Sandgren give the United States a chance for a champion even after its theoretical favorite tumbled two days shy of Sunday’s championship round.
“American tennis is definitely on the up right now and definitely in a couple years will be where in needs to be,” Tiafoe said. “About six, seven guys in the top 200 are under 21. That hasn’t happened in I don’t know how many years, but I’m really happy to be a part of that crop.”
2Americans in the semifinal of the Sarasota Open, including France Tiafoe, the tournament’s No. 3 seed.
Donaldson’s fall came through a missed opportunity. The match’s final break during the second set came with Donaldson ahead 40-0.
Donaldson, who typically thrives on clay after training in Argentina during his teenage years, let an opportunity to force a third set slip away. The heat at United Tennis altered the conditions, leading to faster clay and an almost hard-court effect. Millot, who is one of the older players in the tournament at 31, was able to adjust.
“I won because I played well on an important point,” Millot said.
But what Millot was left to do was rave about his headband-clad opponent and the rising tide of American talent. He singled out Donaldson and Tiafoe, the two top-ranked Americans to reach the quarterfinals, and then dipped down to rattle off a list about half-a-dozen deep.
I won because I played well on an important point.
Vincent Millot, Sarasota Open semifinalist
There’s Taylor Fritz, who wasn’t in the area this weekend. There’s Michael Mmoh, the IMG Academy trainee who had to drop out of the open due to injury. There’s Tommy Paul, who played in the tournament’s qualifying draw during the weekend.
Right now, though, Millot is with that group, and his veteran savvy has him two wins away from his third ATP Challenger Tour title.
“Now you have like a new generation,”Millot said. “They're going to be so, so good in a couple of years. I think you're going to be one of the best countries for tennis.”
Frances Tiafoe def. Henri Laaksonen, 6-3, 6-4.
Jurgen Melzer def. Horacio Zeballos, 7-6, 4-1, ret.
Vincent Millot def. Jared Donaldson, 6-4, 7-5.
Tennys Sandgren def. Denis Kudla, walkover.
Vincent Millot vs. Tennys Sandgren
Not before 3 p.m.
S. Gonzalez/M. Venuse vs. Stefan Kozlov/Peter Polansky
Not before 5 p.m
Frances Tiafoe vs. Jurgen Melzer
Elizabeth Moore Sarasota Open
When: Saturday, noon; Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: United Tennis Club, 4511 Bay Club Drive.
Cost: $20 and up.
Parking: $10 per day.