Frances Tiafoe isn’t just arguably the best prospect in American men’s tennis. The son of African immigrants is the perfect picture of the American dream.
At 24, Tiafoe is the youngest American man to reach the US Open quarterfinals since 2006. He earned his way there by upsetting Rafael Nadal, but the journey into Wednesday’s match versus Andrey Rublev had started long ago — from parents Constant and Alphina escaping civil war in Sierra Leone to Tiafoe, his father and twin brother all living in a room at a tennis center that would change his life.
“Absolutely. I’m a son of immigrants, both parents grew up in Sierra Leone, born and raised in Sierra Leone. Came to the States early ’90s,” said Tiafoe. “They put here, had me and my twin brother.
“My dad, being a maintenance worker at a club, helping build a club ’99. My mom being a nurse, working two jobs, working overtime through the nights. Yeah, us being around tennis was getting us out of our neighborhood, my dad being able to watch us.”
That dad, Constant (Frances Sr.) immigrated to the US in 1993, while Alphina Kamara followed in 1996 to escape a civil war that displaced 2.5 million people.
By 1999, Constant started working as a day laborer on a construction crew that built the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park (Md.). He worked so hard he was kept on as the custodian and given a spare office to live in there.
That’s where Frances and Franklin lived with their father for the next 11 years. By the age of 5, he’d arranged for them to start training for free at the pricy JTCC. Constant hoped maybe someday it could be their ticket to college. He never dared dream of where the game has taken Tiafoe.
“It wasn’t anything supposed to be like this,” Tiafoe admitted. “My dad was like ‘It’d be awesome if you guys can use this as a full scholarship to school.’ We couldn’t afford a university, so use the game of tennis.
“Watching Serena and Venus [Williams] play finals of Grand Slams at that time when I was super young, I was like, ‘How cool would it be to play Wimbledon, to play on Arthur Ashe.’ I just had a big passion for the game — not even for me, but to do it for them. To see them experience me beat Rafa Nadal … to beat those Mount Rushmore guys, I can’t imagine what was going through their heads. They’re going to remember [Monday] for the rest of their lives.”
The next step for Tiafoe is to make those memories constantly. The athleticism, court coverage and talent have always been there; but being more mentally consistent and steadily confident is the hurdle he has to clear.
Tiafoe has split his matches with Rublev, beating him in last year’s US Open third round and falling this year at Indian Wells in his return from injury. He claims his confidence is higher now, and his coach told The Post that’s the key.
“That’s the difficulties,” Tiafoe’s coach Wayne Ferreira told The Post. “If he can come out and play like it did [Monday] and not let it be a problem, then we’ve got some advances in what we’re trying to do. Trying to get Frances to believe that he can do those matches every week, and that should be a normal occurrence for him. So we will see. But it’s never really easy.
“The belief, and [Monday] was a very good match for him to really start to believe that he can compete with the best in the world. He does do it occasionally, but the difficulties of getting past [Monday] and then playing well again is going to be the next step in growth. If he can do it [Wednesday], we’re moving in the right direction. If not, then we have to go back to the drawing board. … I’m excited to see how he approaches it, and I’m optimistic that we’re going to get something good.”