Tennis player Frances Tiafoe has had an up-and-down career. As a teenager, he was expected to be the next great American star, however, success didn’t come as quickly as everyone thought it would.
Now, 24-year-old Tiafoe is finally finding his rhythm. After putting together a nice Wimbledon run and a positive hard court season, the No. 26 player in the world is hitting his stride. On Monday, Frances notched the biggest win of his career, defeating 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the US Open.
“Honestly, when I first came on the scene, I wasn’t ready for it mentally and mature enough,” he said during his post-match interview. “I’ve been able to develop and I have a great team around me. I’m happy I won in front of my mom, my dad, my girlfriend and my team and to have them see what I did.”
According to CNN, Frances is the son of immigrant parents, who met after moving to the United States from Sierra Leone. In 1999, his father Constant worked at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, D.C., sleeping in a storage room, where he was occasionally joined by his twin sons, Frances and Franklin.
And that was Frances Tiafoe’s entry into the very white, mostly rich world of tennis. He watched the older kids’ lessons and then copied everything, spending all day and night practicing on outer courts at the center.
“Obviously, I wasn’t the wealthy kid or wasn’t having all the new stuff or whatever. But I was just living life. I could play tennis for free, the sport I loved,” he told CNN Sport in 2015.
Per The New York Times, in his parents’ home country, the tennis star has become the talk of the nation, even becoming (temporarily) more popular than soccer. In Africa, nothing ever really beats soccer. Abdulai Kamara, a sports blogger and the owner of the Hereford Sierra Leone Football Academy, explained how Frances’ success has boosted interest in the sport.
“Oh, yeah, there is a lot of talk about Tiafoe right now,” Kamara told The New York Times. “We don’t really follow tennis closely here, but now there is some interest. Some people are curious about Frances, and they want to know more.”
The U.S. hasn’t had a male Grand Slam winner since Andy Roddick won the US Open in 2003. Frances handed Nadal his first Grand Slam loss of the year, which puts him on a different level. ESPN is actively advertising his match, making him part of the marketing plan. The pressure on him now is likely something he’s never felt before.
Tiafoe takes on No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. If he makes it out of that one, he could play the winner of the highly-anticipated battle, Jannik Sinner vs Carlos Alcaraz.
The US Open is currently airing on ESPN’s networks.