Pay Attention to Francis Tiafoe


John Isner serves to Francis Tiafoe.

By Pat Costello

John Isner serves to Francis Tiafoe. (Courtesy of Pat Costello)

Frances Tiafoe won the ATP Challenger Tour event in Sarasota, FL this past weekend. The highlight of his tournament was when one of his matches was interrupted by a couple getting intimate at nearby hotel, which Tiafoe responded to by yelling, “It can’t be that good!”

If you’ve never heard of Tiafoe, you’re probably not alone. He’s a 19-year-old prodigy from Maryland who has taken the tennis world by storm, mainly because he’s America’s new greatest hope to win a Grand Slam. The last time an American won was in 2003, when Andy Roddick managed to overpower the field at the U.S. Open. Tiafoe was only five years old.

Tiafoe first popped onto my radar earlier this year at the U.S. Open, when he played one of the best matches of the tournament as a wild card. It was a scorcher of a day. You could have fried an egg on either baseline. Tiafoe was 18 at the time and facing off against 31-year-old John Isner, the number one American in the tournament. Isner is a 6’10” monster, with an overpowering serve and great skills at the net. To say Tiafoe had his hands full would be an understatement. However, Tiafoe came out on fire, and not just due to the heat. He won the first two sets 6-3 and 6-4. It appeared that he was going to cruise to his first Grand Slam main-draw victory, but instead he woke up the sleeping giant.

The third set was madness, and went to a tie-break. Eventually Isner was able to gain the advantage and win the set, causing an uproar in the stadium. You could see Tiafoe was visibly rattled by the crowd, the heat and the moment. As an amateur he had never played a five set match, and looked winded during the entirety of the fourth set. He retreated to a sliver of shade against the back wall numerous times, and looked for his towel often. He basically conceded the fourth set the Isner in favor of expending what energy he had left in the final set. The strategy paid off in a big way, and Tiafoe took the reins. He had the opportunity to serve out for the match, but was broken yet again by Isner. Isner then overpowered the young man, winning in the second tiebreak of the day and taking the match.

As soon as the match ended the crowd was uproarious for Isner and everyone was on their feet for the 20th ranked American, but very quickly the crowd shifted, and gave a standing ovation to the 18-year-old. Everyone knew that they had just witnessed something special, and that they very well may have just seen a glint of the future of American tennis.

Tiafoe’s win in Sarasota is a major milestone in his burgeoning career. It moved him up to number 72 in the world rankings, a career high, and made him just the second teen on tour to win a title. He may not compete in Grand Slams for a few year still, but as Isner implied after their duel in Armstrong, if you’re not buying stock in Frances Tiafoe, it’s time to invest.