Frances Tiafoe was making the rounds. Upstairs, downstairs, inside, exterior. Touching all corners of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, conducting 90-second interviews, shaking palms, making an attempt onerous to handle a smile for everybody in his path.
It was the eve of the United States Open final month, and Tiafoe, 25, was returning to the scene of his best triumph, a semifinal end on the 2022 Open that included an upset of the four-time champion Rafael Nadal.
The Open represented Tiafoe’s coming-out celebration. Ranked No. 26 coming into the match final yr, he started this yr’s Open within the prime 10, largely on the energy of successful two ATP titles, in Houston and Stuttgart, Germany, this season. He additionally reached the semifinals at Indian Wells earlier than shedding to Daniil Medvedev.
But Tiafoe, whose profession started when his mother and father emigrated from Sierra Leone and his father turned head of upkeep on the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., struggled on the majors this yr.
He misplaced within the third spherical on the Australian and French Opens and at Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, he was defeated within the quarterfinals by a fellow American, Ben Shelton.
Tiafoe and Shelton had been chosen by John McEnroe, the captain of Team World, to play within the Laver Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia.
At final yr’s cup, Tiafoe and Jack Sock beat Nadal and Roger Federer within the ultimate match of Federer’s profession. Tiafoe then beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to clinch victory for Team World. It was the primary time within the five-year historical past of the occasion that Team Europe did not win.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
What was it wish to play Roger and Rafa in Roger’s final match?
Me and Jack had been joking, ought to we go onerous, ought to we not, ought to we make it a superb present? I’m glad we went on the market and performed onerous.
The consequence was so irrelevant. Tennis gained that evening.
What did you say to Roger once you met on the web after the ultimate level?
“Thank you for the last 20-plus years. Thank you not only for your on-court play, but for who you are as an individual. What you’ve done will never die.”
Then, within the clinching match, you needed to save 4 match factors towards Tsitsipas?
Man, it felt like I used to be down 100 match factors. It was loopy. I had by no means skilled one thing like that earlier than. Incredible shotmaking with legends sitting on the bench. It was an unbelievable environment.
When you look again on this yr, do you say it’s been an ideal yr, or that it is advisable kick it up a notch?
I believe it’s been an ideal yr exterior of the Slams. But the Slams are the one factor I actually care about, to be honest.
You’ve spoken about Arthur Ashe and the privilege of being a person of shade on this sport. But Arthur additionally spoke of the burden he felt. Do you’re feeling the strain of being on this place and having to encourage others?
One hundred p.c, as a result of it’s not like basketball or soccer, that are predominantly sports activities of shade. Not solely that you simply’re one of some, however you’re doing it at a brilliant excessive stage. There are expectations, however individuals are trying as much as you and eager to be such as you. You’re able to alter folks’s lives. It’s undoubtedly a burden, however on the identical time it’s a blessing.
You have talked about that proper earlier than you play a match, a very powerful factor is that your mom tells you ways a lot she loves you. How important is your loved ones to your success?
Family is the whole lot to me. I’d do something for my household. I play this recreation at a excessive stage for my household. That’s certainly one of my greatest motivations daily. My household can’t even imagine we’re on this place.
Is there one life objective that defines you?
Probably that once I’m performed, each of my mother and father will be capable of kick up their ft. I need to be able to assist children in Sierra Leone play the sport of tennis. It’s probably not about me.