Whether Frances Tiafoe is destined for a big year could very well be revealed at this year’s New York Open.
Tiafoe, the 21-year-old from Maryland whose world ranking of 29 makes him the No. 2 ranked American player behind John Isner, will take on Jason Jung Thursday night in a first-round match at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
This will be a second appearance for Tiafoe, though not one that was originally planned. On the way to the championship of last year’s inaugural New York Open, Kevin Anderson beat Tiafoe in the quarterfinals. But Anderson pulled out of the tournament this year with an injury and Tiafoe was awarded a wildcard.
Tiafoe is coming off a strong performance in the Australian Open where he reached the quarterfinals. He beat Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov along the way and became a fan favorite of the Melbourne crowd for his emotional displays. He would rip his shirt off after victory, pound his chest and punch the air.
He was dispatched pretty quickly in the quarters by Rafael Nadal in three sets. So he knows he’s got a ways to go to get to the top.
“I think Rafa was beating everybody except Novak pretty straightforward,” said Tiafoe on Wednesday. “I don’t take anything negative from it. You learn from his intensity. It’s all intensity. There are no free points. Every point matters. Even if it’s a bad mistake, it’s on to the next point.”
Tiafoe is considered one of America’s best and brightest. His story is appealing — the son of immigrants who fled the civil war in Sierra Leone in the early '90s. He took up the game at a tennis facility in College Park, Maryland, that his father had helped build as a laborer and then became the maintenance man. He had become the No. 1 junior in the world and won the prestigious Orange Bowl in 2013.
But being the No. 1 junior and being the No. 1 pro are radically different things as Tiafoe enters his fourth year as a professional.
“We’re playing in an era that you may never see this good again,” said Tiafoe. “The coming up stages are pretty tough. I’ve had a pretty steady uprise to my career. [The Australian] was a big stepping stone for me. Beating guys in three-out-of-five. I’m only going to keep building more confidence. But there’s a lot of more work to be done to win events like that.”
After his loss at the New York Open last year, Tiafoe won the following event in Del Ray Beach, Florida. His long run at the Australian made him think that he ought to chill out for a while and skip New York. But when the opportunity came to play here, he took it.
“I was away from it, I missed it, wanted to get back competing,” he said.