Ever since Andre Agassi walked off into the sunset, America has been longing for a contender capable of winning sustained championships.The great Rafael Nadal put an emphatic end to 21-year-old American Frances Tiafoe‘s scintillating run to the Australian Open quarterfinals with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory yesterday.
Tiafoe had never been past the third round in a major, but that didn’t stop him from capturing the imagination of the American tennis public that is starving for a savior to dominate on the men’s side of the ledger.
Ever since Andre Agassi walked off into the sunset as one of the sport’s most dominant players from the early 1990’s to the mid-2000’s, winning eight Grand Slams as well as being a runner-up in seven other Grand Slam tournaments, America has been longing for a contender capable of winning sustained championships.
In the ensuing years, we haven’t been able to find him. It’s been a long wait.
Andy Roddick looked like he could be that dude until Roger Federer made him look like Carl Douglas, who proved incapable of following up on his one-hit wonder, “Kung Fu Fighting.” Roddick advanced to four more Grand Slam finals after winning the ’03 U.S. Open, only to to lose each of them.
But Tiafoe now has people believing that the future of men’s tennis in the United States is on the verge of a comeback. Prior to Agassi, America was accustomed to producing great players. From Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors in the 1970s to John McEnroe in the ’80s to Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, and Agassi in the ’90s, American tennis could flex against the best of the best throughout the world. But since Roddick last appeared in the 2009 Wimbledon final, no American man has advanced to the final of a slam.
Promising prospects like Ryan Harrison, Jack Sock and Donald Young were each anointed as “the future of American men’s tennis,” only to go on to rather unremarkable careers.
But Tiafoe’s recent run in Melbourne, despite the smackdown he received at the hands of Nadal in the quarters, has ushered in a new era of hope.
He’s America’s latest, greatest hope, with some believing that he’s the sport’s next big thing.
Tiafoe grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, the urban Washington, D.C. suburb known in sports circles for the DeMatha Catholic High School athletic programs that have produced the likes of Adrian Dantley, Keith Bogans, Victor Oladipo, Danny Ferry, Quinn Cook and Markelle Fultz, among a plethora of others.
Tiafoe’s parents fled Sierra Leone’s civil war in the ’90s. When he and his twin brother, Franklin, were a year old, their father began working as a day laborer on the construction of the Junior Tennis Champions Center.
Their dad was later hired as the facility’s maintenance director where he worked overnight cleaning, treating the clay courts and living in an empty room at the complex. When their mother worked night shifts as a nurse, the twins would sometimes sleep there as well.
By 2014, after winning numerous prestigious junior events, Frances was being courted by Roc Nation Sports, Jay-Z’s sports representation agency, which had never before signed a tennis player.
In 2017, he pushed Federer to five sets in a night match at the U.S. Open. And now with his performance at the Australian Open, he seems to be on the verge of doing things that American tennis fans have long been waiting for.
Serena and Venus’ journey from Compton to becoming two of the game’s all-time greats is one of the greatest American sports stories we’ve ever seen. If Tiafoe continues his ascension to become the face of American men’s tennis, while bagging a bunch of Grand Slam titles along the way, his story could be right up there as well.