Don’t look but with one tennis legend exiting the sport, another may be making his ascent to the top.
Frances Tiafoe, the 24-year-old American who came into the men’s U.S. Open tournament ranked 22nd in the world, is making his case that he was extremely underrated. On Labor Day, he may have proven his point, beating the number-two ranked Rafael Nadal—a legendary player with 22 Grand Slam wins under his belt—in four sets, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Before today, Nadal hadn’t lost a single match this year in a major, but yesterday’s wins were not today’s.
Tiafoe dropped his racket and covered his face with his shirt after winning the last volley in the 3-hour, 33 minute match, in disbelief at the realization that he’ll move on to the semifinal round. It’s the second time he’s made the semis in a major tournament; the first was the 2019 Australian Open.
“Giving Rafa all the respect, I came out to win a tennis match in front of you guys,” Tiafoe said, acknowledging his parents and girlfriend, who were all in attendance.
Tiafoe hails from Hyattsville, Maryland, in Prince George’s County, which until recently was known for being the country’s most affluent majority-Black county—may have been overcome by his win but those in the tennis world have expected greatness from him for awhile.
He’s represented by agent Jill Smoller, whose most famous client is Serena Williams. Even before his milestone win on Monday, he was the only American male player in more than a decade to have made the round of 16 at Flushing for three straight years.
Now, having vanquished the highest-ranked player left in the field, he’s three wins away from winning his first Grand Slam title. Stardom, though, might be right around the corner no matter what.