Frances Tiafoe is in the midst of one of the best runs of his career at the Australian Open, and the 20-year-old Hyattsville native has channeled a little bit of LeBron James along the way. After advancing to the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time on Friday with a five-set win over Italian Andreas Seppi, Tiafoe broke out one of the Los Angeles Lakers star’s familiar celebrations for the second time this week.
Following his forehand winner to finish off Seppi, Tiafoe removed his shirt, pounded his chest three times and raised his knees while pushing his hands, with his palms flat, down toward the court. Plenty of athletes have imitated James’s “Silencer” celebration over the years, including Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and sprinter Usain Bolt at the 2016 Summer Olympics. (James actually credits former NBA player Nick Van Exel for creating the move.)
There was no silencing the crowd on Friday in Melbourne, where chants of “Ti-a-foe! Ti-a-foe!” rang out as the American sat on a bench after his celebration, overcome with emotion.
“I have not heard a roar that big or that sort of reception for a player who’s not Australian on this court,” one of the announcers marveled. “We’ve seen so many great players come through here, but that was something else.”
“Obviously you guys know I’m a big basketball fan,” Tiafoe told reporters on Friday. “Love the team celebrations.”
When asked what he liked about James, Tiafoe responded, “What don’t you like about LeBron?”
Tiafoe, who trained at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, rallied to upset No. 5 seed Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the second round on Wednesday. After dropping the first set and trailing 3-0 in the second, Tiafoe stormed back to win in four sets, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, ending a six-match losing streak against top-10 opponents.
“I went to a different place,” Tiafoe said. “I dug insanely deep. It’s all about competing. Guys are so good. It’s just about how badly you want it. I want it real bad.”
Following his win over Anderson, Tiafoe borrowed another one of James’s go-to celebrations by repeatedly flexing and slapping his right biceps.
“You like that? You like that?” Tiafoe said with a smile when asked about his celebration after the match. “Yeah, that was pretty cool . . . It was kind of an instinct thing, and I hope the crowd liked it.”
The 39th-ranked Tiafoe, who turns 21 on Sunday, is the only American man remaining in the singles draw. He will play No. 20 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Saturday, and another win would be another cause for celebration, perhaps inspired by James.
“If I get a chance to do it on a big court, big situation, you’ve got to bring it up,” Tiafoe said, via the Associated Press. “I don’t know what celebration I’m going to do. I got a lot of them that I know.”
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