© Wayne Ferreira

Frances Tiafoe and Wayne Ferreira have been working together since just before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended the ATP Tour.

Wayne Ferreira: Why I’m Trying To Make Frances Bored

The 15-time ATP Tour champion blogs about coaching Tiafoe

Hi everyone, I hope you’ve been enjoying the US Open! My name is Wayne Ferreira. I once competed on the ATP Tour and now I coach Frances Tiafoe. I wanted to give you a look into how things have been working with Frances, what we’ve been focussing on and what it’s like here in New York.

First thing's first. If Frances is running, training or playing tennis, there’s no phone. He can do all of that stuff on his own time. When it’s business hours he has to work. When it’s off hours he can do what he wants. Frances is getting better with it.

We’ve been trying really hard on something that’s a big problem for him and that’s his ability to stay focussed and keep his attention on the task at hand long enough. We’re trying to do things that allow him to concentrate for longer periods of time so that when it comes to matches, he is prepared.

Improving that is all about practice. We do things that are long and boring to force Frances to keep his focus. One example is I make him go for a 30-minute run without any music or people around him to speak to. During matches he’s alone and he needs to be able to lock in for an extended period of time. It’s just trying to keep his mind focussed on things outside of the tennis court instead of just doing it in tennis. For me I think it’s something we can really work on.

This is only the start, too. Ideally it would be good for him to go for an hour run or a two-hour bike ride all by himself, something that’s even longer or the length of a tennis match. But we’re starting in small steps. We’re trying to work on that. Kids today with the technology, their phones, they lose their attention spans very quickly. He’s one of those kids and he needs to learn how to refocus or focus on one thing and keep that focus as long as possible.

It’s a day to day thing. We speak about this all the time. It’s doing the little things like arriving to the bus on time, doing menial tasks correctly. The little things count. It’s not something you can just talk about. He needs to do it himself. He needs to experience it and work on it. 

I think it’s actually been easier for Frances in the bubble because everything is very structured. He doesn’t have a lot of outside influences in regards to wanting to go out to dinner at a restaurant or go see some friends. He wakes up in the morning, has his breakfast, comes to the courts, does his job and goes back to the hotel. But at the same time he has his tennis friends here. It’s actually been very, very good. This would actually be good for him to have this structure on a regular basis. 

I first started coaching Frances right before the pandemic hit. I was aware of his personality and how nice and friendly he is. I’ve gotten to know him now and he’s just a great kid. He’s really awesome to be around and I have a tonne of fun with him. He’s very, very funny and he makes the time with him really enjoyable.

You cannot teach that and you don’t want to take that personality away from him. His personality is very, very special. But a personality like that is sometimes difficult to convert into focus and intensity. It has pros and cons. He enjoys his tennis. He loves what he does for a living, but there are also more difficulties in keeping focussed. It’s good and bad.

We know that if Frances can maintain his best level, he can do great things. I feel I have a lot to offer him. I think I have a lot of knowledge in the game, an analytical mind and I look at small, little details. I want to do a lot of things and he’s very open-minded. He’s still learning, he’s curious, he wants to get better. Since he is so willing to learn, I’m able to be more involved in helping and improving things.

On the technical side, there’s a lot to change. We’ve worked a lot on the serve and the forehand. We’ve been trying to take the ball earlier, play more aggressively and work a lot on the footwork. We’ve spent a lot of time working on the physical side of things to get him in much better shape.

It’s been a really good five months for us because it gave us time to work on a lot of different aspects of Frances’ game. That is sometimes really difficult when you start with somebody, finding the time to work on those things. In the long run I actually think it was very valuable for us. 

As far as the bubble goes, it's been quite nice here in New York. They’ve done a good job. They put a seating area outside the hotel with a big TV screen and they have food for the guys. That’s made it more pleasurable. If they didn’t have that it would have been tough to stay in the room or the lobby. They’ve tried their best. Under the circumstances, almost three weeks now, it’s been very manageable.

I’ve been going to sit in the outside seating area each night and watching tennis on the TV. They have a food truck there each night, so it’s been very nice hanging out with everybody, eating different foods and making the most of it. They’ve brought every food truck you can think of: Cuban food, sushi, Mexican food. It’s been very cool actually.

Frances has played well so far during the US Open, reaching the third round for the first time. He has played two really tough opponents in Andreas Seppi and John Millman. Seppi gets a lot of balls back and doesn’t make a lot of errors. You have to work really, really hard. Frances focussed extremely well. He played a bad first set and then focussed really well in sets two, three and four.

The Millman match was a bit more topsy-turvy and he didn’t always focus quite as well, but he also showed a really good level to come from two sets to one down. I think the difference with five sets is you have an opportunity to come back when things don’t go well.

One thing here is that because of the pandemic, there is no crowd. There’s not a lot of people, especially compared to if the tournament would be running normally. The place would’ve been packed, especially considering the match next door was an unbelievable match too. It was quite different not having a crowd, it really makes it unusual.

Frances would’ve definitely played off the fans and it might have helped him. I’m impressed with his effort in that he did refocus after the third set. He needs to try to keep that focus. He loves the crowd, but sometimes it could also be a negative for him because he tries to play for the crowd rather than for himself. At one point during the match he was even joking with me about the defence he was playing.

For the rest of the tournament my goal is for Frances to keep improving the things we’ve been working on, the focus in particular. I’d like his next match against Marton Fucsovics to be a little bit better in the focus department, not have a second set and third set like we did against Millman. But what is most important is to keep moving in the right direction. He needs to continue going after his serve, keep playing aggressively and keep doing the right thing. The more he does that, the better he’ll get.