Not since the days of Andy Roddick’s inimitable serve has the United States had such cause for celebration when it comes to the world of tennis. But in recent days, the emergence of Frances Tiafoe has not only stunned his home country, but audiences around the world too. After defeating 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in four sets 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, marking Nadal’s first loss at a Grand Slam this year, Tiafoe etched his name in the history books as he now advances to the semi-finals of the US Open.
If the name Tiafoe has evaded you, you’re not alone. The 24-year-old American is coached by Wayne Ferreira and hails from Hyattsville, Md. His parents immigrated from Sierra Leone in the early 1990s and after his dad served as a custodian at a tennis centre in College Park that he also helped build as a day labourer, Tiafoe picked up a racquet and began playing.
After beating Nadal, Frances Tiafoe became just the second American to beat the beloved Spaniard at the US Open after James Blake achieved the feat in 2005. Now, he advances to the semi-finals where he’ll come up against Carlos Alcarez, the 19-year-old who has become the youngest Grand Slam men’s semi-finalist since Nadal himself, 19, at Roland Garros in 2005, as well as the youngest US Open men’s semi-finalist since Pete Sampras, 19, in 1990.
Tiafoe, who beat Andrey Rublev in straight sets to become the first American to reach the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows since Andy Roddick advanced to the championship match in 2006, said of his US Open camping, “This is wild. This is crazy.”
He added, “I had the biggest win of my life 24 hours ago and coming out and getting another big win…Andrey’s a hell of a player, and to back it up, that’s huge. It’s tough to turn the page, but I did and now I’m in the semis.”
But as any athlete can attest, while the underdog certainly gets a lot of love from the crowds, the pressure is still palpable. They may not have anything to lose on the court, but for Frances Tiafoe, a victory at the US Open will boost not only his own standings in the rankings of the tennis world, but also provide a much-needed boost for the US and their tennis hopes. No American man has won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick in 2003 and judging by his athleticism and powerful displays on the court, Tiafoe could just be the man to change that.
“I just love playing in front of packed people,” Tiafoe said of the US Open and the crowd rooting for his win. “I love to show the world what I can do. Then it makes me feel good when people appreciate how hard you’re trying out there and appreciate good tennis, especially where I came from. To see how many people I can get behind me. [It] means a lot. I just want to go out there and try to give the crowd what they want, and that’s me getting the win.”