How Frances Tiafoe went from sleeping at a tennis center to the US Open semifinals
“I think I’ll remember the next three days. I don’t think I’ll remember this next morning,” Frances Tiafoe said, his demeanor a mix of elation and shock after his stunning semifinals run at the U.S. Open — and his first Grand Slam final. His last match was at the 2017 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, in which he lost in the second round. It marked a fall from grace for one of the tennis’s brightest stars, who, only a few years earlier, was the top-ranked player in the world.
As Tiafoe’s coach, John McEnroe, said on the eve of the match, he never expected the journey of this man, who began his professional career at the age of 12. As he tells the story, the journey all started at a tennis center in Florida.
In the 1980s, tennis had its share of stars — Martina Navratilova, Jimmy Connors, Roy Emerson, Chris Evert — who went straight from their high school to the top of their respective sport. But they never became household names.
Tiafoe, in contrast, became an overnight sensation. A lefty who was raised with tennis in his blood, he was the best-known player from the Dominican Republic, with a deep reach to match his prodigious athleticism.
Tiafoe’s fame grew over the next few years and he was considered to be the future of pro tennis — a top-10 player at 16, and a two-time Davis Cup winner, and part of the team that captured the men’s world tennis titles in 2006 and 2010.
But his rise at a time when tennis players were breaking into their late 20s and early 30s also put him under the same scrutiny that most 16-year-old pros — who were often viewed as cocky — were under in their early years, which led to the downfall of many male tennis stars.
Now, 15 years after he first broke into the scene, to many, Tiafoe is the next great thing. His meteoric ascent not only made him arguably the most-publicized athlete in the world in the last 10 years, but also, as McEnroe says,