WAHINGTON, August 16, 2017 (by Michael Dickens)
Frances Tiafoe is widely considered by many to be the next big American tennis star. Roger Federer certainly thinks so. After the World No. 3 beat the 19-year-old during the second round of the Miami Open last March, he told Rolling Stone, “I think he’s going to be really good. I was actually playing pretty well,” said Federer. “He stayed with me for a very long time.”
While Tiafoe lost the first set to Federer in a close tie-break and later fell in straight sets, 7-6 (2), 6-3, he played fearless against the Swiss ace that day. It’s something that’s since carried over for him throughout 2017 – and, it’s been refreshing to see him finally develop into a future star since turning pro in 2015. Currently, he’s ranked No. 87 in the world after achieving a career high of No. 60 on July 24. His ranking is ninth-best among U.S. men.
Following the loss to Federer, Tiafoe told Rolling Stone, “They’re greats, but at the end of the day, it’s another tennis match. You’ve got to try to think about it like, ‘That’s another match that I want to win, and they’re here trying to do the exact same thing.'”
A Product Of Junior Tennis Champions Center In Maryland
A native of Hyattsville, Md., near Washington, D.C., Tiafoe began playing tennis at age 3 with his twin brother Franklin. He’s a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., where his father, Frances Sr., an immigrant from Sierra Leone, helped construct the tennis facility in 1999, and later became head of maintenance. His mother, Alphina, helped the twins with their schooling while their father worked. At age 15, the younger Tiafoe became the youngest to ever win the Orange Bowl, one of best junior tournaments in the world.
Now, Tiafoe shows all of the physical talents needed to succeed at the ATP level. He’s tall (6’2″, 187 cm) and possesses a powerful first serve. In addition, he moves about the court gracefully for player his size (170 pounds, 77 kg) and exhibits a good shot-making instinct, whether hitting crisp right-handed ground strokes or countering with strong two-handed backhands. This year, Tiafoe played in his first Grand Slam main draws, at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and he won matches in both majors. He’s been the youngest player ranked in the Top 100 this season while splitting his time competing on both the World and Challenger circuits.
World Team Tennis With Washington Kastles
Earlier this summer, Tiafoe played both singles and doubles for the Washington Kastles in World Team Tennis play where he was a crowd favorite – and was even feted with a collectible bobblehead doll during one of the team’s home matches. More recently, though, he lost three consecutive first round matches in the main draws at Atlanta, Los Cabos and Montréal. “The last couple of weeks have been kind of tough,” said Tiafoe, reflecting upon his recent string of losses during a TV interview with Tennis Channel. Asked to compare the difference of playing on the World Tour versus the Challenger Tour, where he’s enjoyed some success, he said, “There are fewer windows of opportunity at this level.”
A wild card this week at the Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Tiafoe won his opening-round match over German qualifier Maximilian Marterer, 6-3, 7-6 (2), on Monday, which improved his World Tour win-loss record to 4-12 this year and 6-24 for his career. Tiafoe played fairly solid throughout his 83-minute match against the 121st-ranked Marterer. He served seven aces, won 78 percent (35 of 45) of his first-serve points and converted 20 of 28 (71%) second-serve point opportunities. He didn’t face any break points while breaking his opponent once. “Im glad I got this win,” Tiafoe told Tennis Channel after beating Marterer. “I’m serving much better and hitting well from the back.”
Tiafoe To Face Zverev In Cincinnati
Next, Tiafoe faces the hottest player in men’s pro tennis, World No. 7 Alexander Zverev, on Wednesday. The 20-year-old from Germany comes into the Cincinnati Masters with a 10-match winning streak – all on hard courts – and an impressive 46-13 win-loss record this year. He won his second ATP title in two weeks – and fifth this season – when he handed Federer just his third loss of the year in the Rogers Cup final in Montréal on Sunday. Afterward, Zverev told The New York Times: “I don’t think I’m part of the big four because they’ve won too much in the history of tennis. They won too many Grand Slams.”
The Tiafoe-Zverev clash showcases two #NextGenATP stars who are coming into their own albeit at different speeds. Zverev’s recent triumphs, at the Citi Open in Washington and the Rogers Cup in Montréal, suggest to me he’s ready to be among the favorites at the U.S. Open, which begins August 28. With a rash of recent injuries to Top 10 players, Zverev is likely to receive a top-five seed as he searches for his Grand Slam breakthrough. “Sascha’s been playing great this year; hats off to him,” said Tiafoe.
Meanwhile, although Tiafoe is starting to show promise – despite what his win-loss record suggests – he’s still a diamond in the rough talent. But he wants to get better. Regardless of how his match against Zverev plays out, he’ll still be out there chasing his dream.
“Nobody knows when, but I’m pretty confident that I’ll be up there one day,” Tiafoe told Rolling Stone. “I just want to be great.”