Sports

Wimbledon 2019: Meet Frances Tiafoe, the Charismatic New Face of American Tennis

Frances Tiafoe

Each Wimbledon brings with it new rising stars, often solid players who come in strong but don’t always exit with the wind at their sails.

For Wimbledon 2019, there’s a fresh face that looks to buck that trend: Frances Tiafoe, an energetic 21-year-old American who is catching tennis audiences by surprise around the world this year.

A rare story of humble beginnings in tennis

Tennis — unfairly — is generally seen as an expensive sport. Top quality gear, expensive training, and access to private courts are often understood as the bare minimum to be a competitive player.

For Frances Tiafoe, his family’s financial status was no barrier. Starting at six years old, he spent many of his nights sleeping in a storage area on the University of Maryland campus where his mother worked.

Surrounded by massage tables, tennis courts, and other apparent signs of luxury had the young Frances feeling alienated by his own poverty.

It took a visit to his parents’ home country, Sierra Leone, to truly put into perspective the opportunities he truly had at home. Deciding to make the best of their situation, Tiafoe’s father encouraged his boys to take full advantage of the facilities around them. One, in particular, became an obsession for Tiafoe. Enter: tennis.

An overperforming youngster becomes a fearsome professional

By the time Tiafoe was 10 years old, he was already capable of taking on players two years his senior. Throughout his adolescent years, he became a regular fixture in regional tournaments.

His rapid ascent climaxed in his jaw-dropping performance at the 2013 Orange Bowl. There, as a 12-year-old, he became the youngest winner in the venerated competition’s history.

After two more years of regional and national tournament upsets, in 2015 Tiafoe became the first American to participate in the main draw of the French Open since 1989. The road to Wimbledon 2019 became all but inevitable from there.

Frances Tiafoe, different kind of tennis professional

Tennis players in the University of Maryland area were universally aware of the high-energy antics of the young Tiafoe. His more stoic childhood focus gave way to exuberant confidence as he got older. Many friends and local tennis fans compared his approach to the game to a basketball player.

For the international scene, Tiafoe burst on the scene as a fully-formed charismatic phenom known for big displays of emotion. The NBA player comparisons that popped up in his youth returned. This was mainly because of big expressions of joy, rather than the flashes of anger that tennis fans are not unfamiliar with.

Off the court, Tiafoe is known for a sharp sense of style. He’s been the subject of a GQ fashion spread and is a fixture in sports fashion coverage. He’s come a long way from being the kid wearing the same Pikachu shirt every day at the U of M tennis courts.

The road to Wimbledon 2019

Now 21, Frances Tiafoe makes constant appearances in major international tournaments as of late. This includes a run at the GANT Championships in June.

He qualified for Wimbledon 2019, but just missed seeding. His rapidly evolving skill makes him a good bet for a new participant who might make the list of great upsets at Wimbledon.

Tiafoe is matched up against Fabio Fognini, an accomplished player who previously went the distance the last time they met. That French Open meeting was a five-set marathon that ultimately went to the more experienced Fognini. At the time, it was considered a near upset.

In 2019, it almost went all the way in Tiafoe’s favor again. Tiafoe lost in a hard-fought five-set match to the 12th ranked player.

Despite this disappointing result, Frances Tiafoe’s career is marked by consistently rising skill and his potential clearly has yet to be reached. This fresh young face of American tennis is here for the long haul.