Frances Tiafoe: 'Tennis Chose Me'
Frances Tiafoe’s father, Frances Sr., was once a maintenance worker at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Maryland. He even helped build the facility. When Tiafoe was a kid, he’d tap the ball against the club wall with his twin brother, Franklin, never imagining that one day he would be competing on the biggest stages in the world.
“I didn’t choose this sport by any means,” Tiafoe told ATP Uncovered presented by Peugeot. “I love to say it: it chose me.”
In a way, it was meant to be. Tiafoe remembers fondly how excited he used to be to simply get to hold a racquet and hit the ball. He’d also watch players who took classes at the facility.
“We’d go to school and then after we couldn’t wait to get to the tennis courts,” Tiafoe said. “It was fun. We spent a lot of time together, a lot of good memories, a lot of good brotherhood.”
From a young age, Tiafoe dreamt big. He wanted to be great, and the American was relentless in his pursuit of that goal.
“I kind of just made the decision I’m going to play every day and I’m just going to keep getting better, keep getting better. I’m going to chase a goal that sounds unrealistic now, but I’m going to turn it into a reality pretty soon,” Tiafoe said. “That’s what I did. I stayed the course, I had a vision. You can’t achieve anything if you don’t dream it.
“Anything you want to achieve, just be obsessed. I was obsessed with playing tennis. I was obsessed with watching it, just being around the sport, learning, soaking up everything I can… anything you want to be great at, you’ve got to be obsessed with [it].”
Tiafoe always wanted to put his family in a better situation. His mother, Alphina, worked two jobs as a nurse to help the family make ends meet. Tiafoe’s parents dreamt of their children earning college scholarships through tennis, but Tiafoe wanted more for them.
“They sacrificed so much. They grinded,” Tiafoe said. “I’m truly thankful that they both put the time in and just tried to make ends meet for us.”
At only 22, Tiafoe has already earned nearly $3.5 million in prize money alone. That didn’t come without putting everything aside to fully focus on his tennis.
“It’s got to be a priority. You’ve got to be able to sacrifice certain things. You can argue I sacrificed doing normal things, just being a kid. But I was having the time of my life, so I was really just enjoying it and that’s all I wanted to do,” Tiafoe said. “I was different than a lot of other kids.”
Tiafoe is a big fan of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, who passed away this January in a tragic helicopter accident. He hopes to follow in their footsteps in inspiring the next generation.
“I want to be known as a guy who was caring for the fans, a guy who wants to really build an unbelievable legacy,” Tiafoe said. “My goal is to help more black people play tennis ultimately, and just to be a good role model.”