Frances Tiafoe Started Tennis to Stay Out of Trouble, Earn Scholarship

  • American Frances Tiafoe beat Andrey Rublev 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 in the US Open quarterfinals on Wednesday.
  • The 24-year-old tennis star said his career was never “supposed to be like this.”
  • Tiafoe said it was initially about “getting out of our neighborhood” and maybe earning a scholarship.

NEW YORK — Frances Tiafoe is enjoying one of the most impressive Grand Slam runs for an American man in decades.

But the 24-year-old Maryland native said his tennis career was never “supposed to be like this.”

Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Tiafoe upset world No. 9 Andrey Rublev in straight sets on Wednesday to extend his surreal run through the 2022 US Open. But before he became the first American man to reach the grand slam semifinals since 2006, Tiafoe told the press just how improbable his rise to tennis greatness — and this moment, in particular — truly was.

The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe and his twin brother grew up around the game — literally. They spent part of their childhood sleeping on massage tables at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, where their father worked as a maintenance man.

They really only started playing the sport out of convenience, and as a strategy for “getting out of our neighborhood” in Prince George’s County, just outside of Washington, DC.

Tiafoe celebrates after beating Rublev.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

“Once we got in the game of tennis, it was like my dad was like, it would be awesome if you guys can use this as a full scholarship to school,” Tiafoe said during his press conference on Monday. “I mean, we couldn’t afford a university. So use the game of tennis.”

As time went on, though, it became increasingly clear that Tiafoe had talent beyond those relatively small ambitions. He started putting his name on the map upon winning several prestigious juniors tournaments at 14 and 15 years old.

By the time he was 16, he was a pro.

Tiafoe celebrates taking down Rafael Nadal during the 2022 US Open.
Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

“I just had a big passion for the game,” Tiafoe recalled, adding: “Watching Serena and Venus [Williams] play finals of Grand Slams at that time, when I was super young, I was like, ‘How cool would it be to play Wimbledon, to play on Arthur Ashe, and stuff like that?'”

Pretty cool, he can now say with the confidence of a man who’s experienced it first-hand.

“It’s something to tell the kids, the grandkids.”

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