The origins of Frances Tiafoe contain a moving story. With a path full of obstacles and shortcomings, this cocktail was not an impediment for the American tennis player to constantly improve himself until he became among the best in the world.
Its story begins in January 1998. His mother, Alphina Kamara, gave birth to Frances and her twin Franklin in the city of Hyattsville, an urban suburb close to Washington. Both she and her father, Constant Tiafoe, they met in the United States after escaping from Sierra Leone in the mid-1990s due to a civil war.
His relationship with tennis began practically from birth. His father had worked as a construction worker for the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) and when the complex was opened, he worked as a janitor on the grounds. As he was going through a bad economic time, he had to take overtime at night and on several occasions both Frances and her brother Franklin were spending the night at the JTCC, where they converted an office into their home. “I slept on folding tables in the office. That’s where my adventure began”He remembered Tiafoe in an interview with The Guardian in 2019.
In 2006, while a child Tiafoe was strolling through the halls of the JTCC with his used shirts and discarded rackets, he was discovered by Misha Kouznetsov, a youth coach who came from Pennsylvania to find new talent. Within three months of meeting him, Kouznetsov had already entered Tiafoe in child-youth tournaments.
“He was bigger than most kids his age and more athletic. When he was 10 years old, he started playing with boys over 12 years old, and at that moment I knew that one day he could become a professional.” reminisce Kouznetsov about the time he coached the current number 49 of the ATP rankings.
At age 12, Tiafoe made the decision to be a professional tennis player and from there everything was on the rise. Two years after that determination he won the U-14 World Championship in France and at 15 he was awarded the prestigious Orange bowl in Florida, becoming the youngest champion in the history of the contest.
His growth was fast and dizzying, but always at the same time fulfilling his dream of being a professional tennis player. That character that characterizes him was molded after a visit he made to Sierra Leone, the land of his parents. “The poverty there is crazy. You see it on TV, and then you watch it up close and it’s like, damn. People were really suffering and there was very little hope. That made me understand that, as a US citizen, I had opportunities and was capable of doing whatever I wanted. “ he commented to the site The Undefeated in June 2019.
At just 17 years old, the Maryland native made his Roland Garros main draw debut (a year earlier he had been invited to train with Rafael Nadal and had played the qualy of the US Open) and became the youngest American to do so since Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in 1989. In that debut he fell to the Slovak Martin Klizan 6-2, 6-1 and 6-4.
In recent years, Tiafoe took off and became one of the best 30 in the world (his best ranking was 29th in February 2019) and he began to shake the tennis world with his shocking Australian Open in 2019, where it reached the quarterfinals (fell before Nadal) after beating three heavyweights: Kevin Anderson, Andreas Seppi and Grigor Dimitrov.
By the beginning of 2020, all the good that the American had done seemed to disappear. His moment was not the desired one (he lost in the first round in the first three tournaments he played in the year) and fell to 84th place in the world ranking. But there, although it sounds strange, the Covid-19 pandemic appeared to accommodate it.
“The pandemic was probably the best thing that happened to me in my career, to be frank. I was in a dark place before the pandemic. I looked in the mirror and asked, ‘Why are you here? What are the things that Do you need to change and what are the things you need to keep building on? ”It helped me a lot. There were a lot of deep conversations.” He revealed to the ATP after reaching the second week at the 2020 US Open and falling into the hands of Daniil Medvedev.
Rough day at the office yesterday but a great day of training with the world number one Rafael Nadal pic.twitter.com/nlW5Atp7C8
– Frances Tiafoe (@FTiafoe) June 3, 2014
As a finishing touch, in 2021 he began to achieve something he had not done before: dominate the Top 10. Between March 2017 and April 2021, his record against the players in this ranking was three wins and 21 losses. But from June until now, he’s been on a four-win streak and just one loss. His victims were: Stefanos Tsitsipas (in duplicate), Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov. And now he will have a chance to win the ATP 500 in Vienna against Alexander Zverev, another Top 10 he wants to cross off the list.
“I hope there are some young people who look at me and understand that if you are obsessed with being great at what you do, you can escape from any situation”. With this phrase to the site The Undefeated, Tiafoe shows that he is not only an example on the court, but also off it.