Frances Tiafoe started 2019 with a high point in his tennis career. He is hoping to finish it by resuming his ascent.
Tiafoe celebrated his 21st birthday in January at the Australian Open with a run to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal, beating No. 5 seed Kevin Anderson along the way. That boosted the Washington-area native to a career-high ranking of No. 29 the following month.
The next two majors, the French Open and Wimbledon, resulted in first-round exits. Now the No. 41 player in the world, Tiafoe hopes his ascent restarts at the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 26. He wants to get back inside the top 30.
Tiafoe said his ultimate target is to become the first American man in 10 years to advance to the final of a Grand Slam. And he wants to be the first to win a major since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. Tiafoe believes he can be the one.
“That’s always been the goal,” he said.
On Monday night, Tiafoe began his third season with the Washington Kastles, one of eight franchises in World Team Tennis. The Kastles lost their opener, 22-18, to the Vegas Rollers; Tiafoe is also scheduled to play for the team Tuesday and Wednesday at Union Market. Nick Kyrgios and Venus Williams are scheduled to play for the Kastles later this month.
Tiafoe, who is also slated to appear in Washington at the Citi Open beginning July 29, arrived Monday just after 5 p.m. He greeted a host of friends and walked through a few vendors in the market, on the ground floor, before making his way upstairs to the court. The Kastles are playing this summer on the roof of Union Market in a pop-up stadium that seats 700, and Tiafoe said he anticipates the venue’s intimacy.
“I really like it,” he said. “I’m just here ready to get a win. … It’s almost more nerve-racking playing here” than Wimbledon, he said, because he knows many of the tennis fans in Washington.
Before the Kastles’ opening match, Tiafoe reflected on the past few months. One of the highlights followed his early singles exit at Wimbledon: Tiafoe partnered with Williams in mixed doubles. They lost to 12th-seeded Franko Skugor and Raluca Olaru, 6-3, 6-1, in the second round. In January, Tiafoe played mixed doubles with Venus’s sister Serena. Tiafoe said Venus pushed him harder.
“She got on me a couple of times in practice to bring some energy,” Tiafoe said, chuckling. “She’s very intense. She’s unbelievable. One of the nicest people I’ve ever been around. Something I’ll never forget.”
The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe grew his game at the Tennis Center at College Park, where his father was the maintenance man. From 1999 to 2010, the center’s tenants were Tiafoe, his twin brother, Franklin, and his father, Constant.
After living in Florida for years, Tiafoe has moved back to the D.C. area, and he bought his mother a home. He is understanding his body’s full potential, confident that he’ll return to the top-tier ranking he knows he can reach.
Said Mark Ein, the Kastles owner who also runs the Citi Open: “I’m so proud to call him one of our own.”