Four months after making history as the youngest to win the Orange Bowl, junior tennis’s year-end world championships, Francis Tiafoe of College Park claimed the Easter Bowl, the top tournament for American juniors.
Tiafoe, who turned 16 in January, entered the hard-court, 18-and-under event as the tournament’s top seed, which added a degree of pressure he hadn’t faced back in December, when he won the Orange Bowl at age 15. A succession of tennis greats preceded him as Orange Bowl champions — Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Roger Federer among them — but none had managed to win it at 15.
In following up his Orange Bowl victory with a triumph in the Easter Bowl on Sunday, Tiafoe made a statement about his consistency as well as his versatility. He credited his progression to the fact he has started competing against rising pro players in Futures events while continuing his training at the College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center and still competing in top junior events.
“It has helped me mature as a player,” Tiafoe said in a telephone interview following his 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2 victory over Nathan Ponwith of Scottsdale, Ariz., in Indian Wells, Calif. “I’m feeling confident out there. I’m liking the way I’m playing.
“I’m mostly playing the game the right way.”
Tiafoe raced to a 5-2 lead in the opening set but said he “got pretty lackadaisical” at that point, thinking he had won the set. Pushed to a tiebreak, he salvaged matters only to get broken in the opening game of the second set.
But with a change of shirt, he changed his attitude for the third set.
“I was ready to go,” said Tiafoe, who was introduced to tennis at the JTCC, where his father was the maintenance manager of the complex.
“I started moving better and seeing the ball better.”
Tiafoe plans to enter the junior events at the season’s three remaining Grand Slam events, the French Open (held on clay), Wimbledon (grass) and U.S. Open (hard court).
JTCC students Evan Zhu and Caleb Chakravarthi, both 15, won the Easter Bowl boys’ 16-and-under doubles title.
Andrew Fenty, son of former Washington mayor Adrian Fenty, reached the semifinals of the boys’ 14-and-under bracket.