Frances Tiafoe: American idol
Originally published on 14/04/16 00:00
The 18-year-old occupies a place in the world’s Top 200, currently seven places below his career high ranking of 167, and as he begins his adult years he is predicted to shine.
Tiafoe, from the Washington suburb of Hyattsville, had an incredible 2015 to say the least, elevating himself from No.1,145 in December 2014 to inside the Top 200 by November the following year.
Now based in Florida the youngster broke onto the ATP scene in 2014 at his home tournament, the Citi Open, only to lose upon his wildcard debut.
Unsuccessful qualifying attempts did not deter Tiafoe. A loss at the US Open to eventual main draw player Tatsuma Ito, was followed by claiming his first professional title at the Bakersfield Futures tournament in California, an achievement which was soon rewarded by turning professional in April last year.
His eyes soon turned to the American clay court Challenger circuit where began to propel himself up the rankings. The pinnacle being his maiden Top 100 scalp – overcoming Facundo Bagnis in the first round before losing his first Challenger final in Tallahassee.
Fast becoming a clay court specialist, Tiafoe earned a place as a wildcard in the 2015 French Open, an honour courtesy of the Har-Tru Wild Card Challenge – a competition set up by the USTA to give Pro Circuit players the chance to wield their swords at Grand Slam level.
Tiafoe happily obliged, becoming the youngest American to compete at Roland Garros since Michael Chang in 1989. However, Martin Klizan made sure his stay in Paris was short lived.
The 6’2” baseliner finally utilised the faith put in him, capitalising on his Winston-Salem Open qualifying wildcard and going onto register his first ATP Tour level win in a hard-fought 3-6 7-6(4) 7-6(3) triumph over James Duckworth.
Suffering defeat in the next round only drove the teenager on to better things, bouncing back by qualifying for his second Slam of the year at the US Open. World No.22 Viktor Troicki proved a step too far, though the bright lights of New York saw his name begin to be whispered as a future prospect.
Another final came and went, this time Briton Dan Evans proved too tough to handle in Knoxville, but a year-end ranking of 176 gave the teenager reason to celebrate.
This season's highlight (so far) came on the courts of Indian Wells. Drawn against compatriot Taylor Fritz on his Masters 1000 debut, the two up-and-comers offered each other a huge opportunity to gain tour points and face a big name in the next round. Tiafoe prevailed and proceeded to push an in-form David Goffin before succumbing in a final set tie-break.
Tiafoe, who recently admitted to being starstruck by Miami Heat’s Dwyane Wade, may soon make a name for himself in the locker rooms dotted around the globe. The young talent promises to continue his assault of the ATP Tour, where further Grand Slam appearances are a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.
Paul Pierce, Tiafoe's idol and former Washington Wizards star once said: “There’s a line that separates having confidence and being conceited. I don’t cross that line, but I have a lot of confidence in myself.”
That same confidence seeps from Tiafoe’s pores and he is one which the top players will want to avoid as he threatens to make his mark on the world stage.