NEW YORK – His wristband is on Francis TiafoeA racket’s hand says, “Believe. Why not me.”
Tiafoe is perhaps the one to end the 19-year drought for the men’s singles champion at the US Open.
Watching him play is fun: the way he bounces back quickly after changes, his eye-catching style of play, his impressive array of shots and his ruthless serve. And until the massive carnage at the scene behind his chair at the end of the match, clothes and shoes were strewn everywhere.
“My player bank is demonic. Yes, it gets the job done, so who cares now?” Tiafoe said after his match against Rublev.
And all this rocks with his stunning background and infectious personality.
“I hope one day there will be a movie about him,” coach Wayne Ferreira said after the victory over Rublev.
The 24-year-old was born in Maryland, the son of immigrants who moved to the United States in the 1990s from war-torn Sierra Leone. His father, Constant, worked on the construction of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, D.C., and ended up working as a janitor, and got a room there where his two children—Francis and his twin brother Franklin—slept. Some nights their mother, Alvina, worked two shifts as a nurse.
“It wasn’t supposed to be anything like that,” Tiafoe said earlier this week. “Once we started tennis, my dad was like, ‘It would be great if you guys could use this as a full scholarship for school. “We can’t afford college, so use tennis.”
Nine years ago in 2013, he won the Orange Bowl – a junior tournament Roger FedererJim Courier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg also won.
Another winner was Andy Roddick – the man Tiafoe is now following in his footsteps at Flushing Meadows. Tiafoe’s victory over Rublev made him the youngest American player to reach the semi-finals since Roddick in 2006. Roddick was also the last American man to win the US Open in 2003.
But that’s Tiafoe’s way, and he’s doing it his way, spurred on by the dreams of success he had when he was young. The Big Three in men’s tennis are called the “Mount Rushmore Youth,” but it was Serena And the Venus Williams Who caught his imagination and his idols. He’s been wearing a Serena GOAT jacket to go to the field in the previous two games.
“At that time I was watching Serena and Venus [Williams] Playing Grand Slam Finals, when I was very young I was like, ‘How cool would it be to play Wimbledon, to play Arthur Ashe and things like that?’ ‘” said Tiafoe after beating Nadal. Now he is the first black American man to reach the semi-finals of the US Open since Ashe himself arrived in 1972.
And when he takes center stage on Friday to play Carlos AlcarazHe’ll have the whole place behind him.
This is a race that has long been hinted at but never materialized. His best ATP 1000 finish was the quarter-finals in 2019 in Miami. His previous best performance in a major tournament was the quarter-finals of the Australian Open that same year. The ability was there, but the results weren’t identical.
“We’ve worked a lot in the past two months on the mental side, around trying to deal with big and important situations,” Ferreira said after the victory over Rublev. “They have done exceptionally well. The shot has been good for the last two months. That was a good thing for us. It’s just to finish the matches.”
Ferreira also noted how they worked on his nutrition. “He liked a lot of candy, chocolate, and cookies,” Ferreira said. “He ate at unusual times. He missed breakfast a lot. He didn’t really have a good range of times to eat before matches, what to eat after matches. You need a little guidance on that aspect and he did it well in that aspect of it” .
Here at the US Open, Tiafoe didn’t eat at a restaurant once, instead ordering from Morton’s Steakhouse.
They changed their training So training sessions are shorter, cell phones are off, and Tiafoe works without music to sharpen his focus.
“I think during that time the cameras weren’t around with me, the attention wasn’t in me, I was able to get better and do my own thing,” Tiafoe said after Rublev’s match. “I stopped trying to be the guy. Like when things happened, they would. I was fine. I was comfortable with myself. Yeah, now, it’s all paying off.”
After 3 hours and 34 minutes, he outgrew it. That defeat had broader repercussions for the men’s title, Karen Khachanov saying after winning Nick Kyrgios That Tiafoe’s victory meant that the rest saw in him an “opportunity to take the cup” with the sending of a goat.
But seeing a favorite player get knocked out is one thing, and the other is a player who manages to manage and process whatever comes with him.
“Be your own goat,” says one of his other bracelets. That victory over Nadal was a defining moment for Tiafoe, and then after the match, he saw a tweet from LeBron James praising him. “Man, I was losing him in the locker room,” said Tiafoe. “Brother, I’ve been crazy. Yeah, I mean, that’s my guy. So to see him post that, I was like, ‘Do I retweet it as soon as it’s sent?'” I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to be cool and act like I haven’t seen it and retweet it three hours later.
Tiafoe had a sleepless night after that match.
“The difficulty is that Rafa was the best player he ever beat,” Ferreira said. “To get out of that and play after two days is very difficult. So we tried really hard to make him enjoy the moment but we tried to move on.”
Focus on living in the moment. After beating Rublev, Tiafoe raised his hands to Ashe’s closed ceiling, did a little dance and then went to give basketball champion Bradley Beal a hug. Bell, who plays for Tiafoe’s hometown Washington Wizards, was front row in the best seat in the house to watch the American sports star.
Then Tiafoe looked at his chest. He saw his father standing motionless in shocked joy, and as they made eye contact, Constant raised his hands to the roof, and Alvina hugged his girlfriend Ian BroomfieldWhile everyone and everyone was standing in a state of collective disbelief with Ferreira at the center.
But against Rublev, it all came together for Tiafoe. “It was honestly a hilarious tie-breaker,” Tiafoe said. “You can’t make it up.”
With Tiafoe only two games away from the eternity of tennis, there is no risk of drifting. “There are a lot of great players who haven’t had a great career by not winning anything,” Ferreira said. “For me it’s about winning. I think he needs to win. It’s down to success by winning and winning.”
Tiafoe will try again to press the reset button before the semi-finals. He doesn’t want it to be another story about how he almost made a mistake.
“I like to show the world what I can do,” said Tiafoe. “Then I get satisfaction when people appreciate how hard it is to try out there and appreciate good tennis, especially where I come from. To see how many people I can get behind me. It means a lot.
“If I’m really passionate about something, I think anything can happen, and be obsessed with it. Right now, I’m really obsessed with tennis, and I want to see how far I can go with this thing.”
He will listen to his mother’s advice, which she gives him before every match – play the guy, not the name. He will remember the logo on his wrist.
“[I] Look at this: Yes, why not me? I made the time, so why not me? ‘Believe yourself,’ said Tiafoe, ‘it is very big. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else can believe in you.