From Section to Semis
At the 2022 US Open Championships
“I just always find a way somehow on this court, find a way to play some great tennis," said Frances Tiafoe in the post-match interview after securing his spot in the US Open semi-finals when he defeated world No. 11 Andrey Rublev 7-6(7-3), 7-6(7-0), 6-4.
At age 24, Tiafoe is the youngest American semi-finalist since Andy Roddick in 2006 and is the first black American man since Richmond, Va. native, Arthur Ashe. The momentum and energy in New York City are electric and the worldwide audience is going wild for Frances Tiafoe.
Reaching the semis at the US Open may be a first, but Tiafoe is used to playing it big on court. At age 14, Frances won Le Petits As in France and then went on to win Orange Bowl in Florida one year later - both prestigious junior events. It was at age 16 that he made his first ATP Tour main draw debut at D.C.’s own Citi Open. Since the beginning, Frances has been dreaming big and working hard to succeed in the tennis community and beyond.
And that dream started right here in the Mid-Atlantic Section.
Tiafoe was born in Hyattsville, Md., the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone. His father, Frances Sr., was part of the construction crew that built the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, Md., and later was hired full-time at the facility. With their father’s connection to JTCC, Frances and his twin brother, Franklin, were able to begin training there at the age of 5.
Because of their father’s position on staff, Franklin and Frances had free access to the sport and training opportunities at JTCC; a tremendous and valuable resource that opened the pathway to tennis development, education, and ultimately success.
It is inevitable that starting in a sport will come with some expenses. From beginners to advanced competitors, tennis expenses can add up. The average annual cost of training for some highly competitive junior players is anywhere from $10,000 - $100,000 or more per year, which could be a significant barrier. That is why USTA Mid-Atlantic emphasizes the importance of access and inclusive, low-cost programming; and provides a scholarship program to help junior players of all levels, abilities, and backgrounds gain the opportunity to play tennis. In addition, the Mid-Atlantic Section supports community providers, like JTCC, with grants and resources that strengthen their outreach programs.
Because of free and accessible programming at JTCC, it is possible for him to stand on the grand stage of a grand slam. And he is not taking this moment for granted.
In a personal essay that he wrote to Arthur Ashe in January 2021, Frances said, “It’s important for me to give back, for so many different reasons. I was that kid. I didn’t grow up with much, but I had a dream. I had a vision and attacked it every day. All that it took was an opportunity. I had a sniff of a chance and I ran with it.”
“Self-belief is a wonderful thing; a magical thing. Whenever I get the chance to talk to others—especially to kids—I try to drive that idea home with them. You always help the guys and girls coming after you. But you don’t want them to be just like you. Essentially, you want them to be better.”
Frances has always been one to inspire and leave a positive impact in the Mid-Atlantic Section. He has participated with USTA MAS in a number of tennis “kids days” helping introduce the sport to young players and inspiring them with his story and his actions. Tennis in the Mid-Atlantic created a community for him, it gave him tennis. Through tennis, he also learned how to act with character on and off the court by emphasizing good sportsmanship.
“I think for the most part I am a pretty good sport,” said Tiafoe at a 2022 Citi Open press conference. “ You’re a person first and an athlete second, right? I mean, who you are as an individual I think matters a lot and carries over a lot.”
Now he is looking to take those lessons and pass them down to the next generation of tennis greats.
From humble beginnings to grand slams. From the Mid-Atlantic Section to the semi-finals of the US Open, Frances Tiafoe is making waves in the tennis world and the Mid-Atlantic Section will be watching every moment bringing the energy to cheer him on, hopefully through to the finals and beyond.
“Let’s enjoy this one. We got two more. We got two more.”
USTA Mid-Atlantic is prioritizing access to tennis for all so that other junior players in the Section, the ones right now idolizing players like Frances, can achieve their tennis dreams just like him. Learn more about how you can support youth tennis players in the region and our vital work. And if you or a player you know is looking to continue their tennis dreams, we encourage you to apply for a USTA Mid-Atlantic Junior Player Scholarship.
USTA Mid-Atlantic is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that helps people and communities grow stronger, healthier, and more connected through tennis. Learn about our impact in the Section and how you can help bring tennis to more communities throughout the region.
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