Federer prevailed in a grueling five setter 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 to avoid losing in the first round of a Slam for the first time since the 2003 French Open.
The rapid fight under the roof of Arthur Ashe Stadium was one of only nine matches that were completed. 55 others were cancelled as a result of torrential rain.
At times, Federer also looked as if he was about to disappear with the deluge, struggling with a back injury as well as the all-out assault of Tiafoe, the 19-year-old son of immigrants from Sierra Leone.
But the veteran survived to register his 79th win in New York and set-up a second round match-up with either Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny or Blaz Kavcic of Slovenia.
“It was more than a test. We enjoyed it out there, we kept fighting, trying and it was exciting,” said Federer, in a post-match comment.
“I had a slow start. I was worried about the back injury. In the fifth set, it was a coin toss and it went my way tonight so I am very happy.”
“I am feeling extremely well. This will give me great confidence,” added Federer, who missed the 2016 tournament with injury and was playing under the $150 million Ashe roof for the first time.
Earlier on, Nadal also did his job by beating Dusan Lajovic. But he had less trouble than Federer and held his opponent down in only three sets 7-6, 6-2, 6-2.
The Spaniard complained about the noise inside the Ashe stadium, which was amplified because the roof was closed as a result of the rain.
“I understand it’s a show, but under the roof we need to be a little bit stricter about the noise. All the noise stays inside, and this is difficult,” said Nadal.
Meanwhile, Maria Sharapova begins to explore just how well she can finish at the US Open on Wednesday after a successful and emotional Grand Slam comeback following a 15-month doping ban.
The 30-year-old Russian ousted second seed Simona Halep in her opener in three sets, 6-4, 4-6 and 6-3, and now faces Hungary’s Timea Babos for the first time in the second round of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament.
And with Halep and British seventh seed Johanna Konta both ousted already, Sharapova would not see another top-10 foe until potentially 10th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals.
The draw is wide open for a deep run by Sharapova despite her relative lack of matches and nagging injuries that allowed her only one hard court tune-up to the Open.
“From the moment that I’ve been here, I’ve really understood what this means to me, to be back and to be playing,” Sharapova said.
“Not playing a lot of matches coming into this, it almost seemed like I had no right to (beat Halep). And I somehow did. I think that is what I’m most proud of.”
– with AFP