The Emergence of Frances Tiafoe
By Emilie Moeller
Between shot- making prowess, remarkable athleticism, and an engaging personality, Frances Tiafoe has always been a sort of “package deal” within the world of professional tennis. However, it was his 2022 U.S. Open semifinal run and his clinching Laver Cup victory that put Tiafoe on the map as not just a player to watch, but a personality that resonates with those beyond the sport of tennis.
What makes Tiafoe’s journey so compelling is its substance, rooted in a genuine passion. In fact, Tiafoe’s tennis story began at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, where his father, a Sierra Leone emigrant, worked as a maintenance worker. Tiafoe was able to join the junior program because of that, and it was not long before he was translating those lessons into noteworthy accomplishments, such as winning the prestigious Orange Bowl tournament when he was 15 and winning the U.S. Under 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo.
“I’ve gotten the chance to commentate on Frances’ matches over the years and work with him at many of our charity events, and he really is a special talent,” said Cliff Drysdale, ESPN commentator and Tennis Hall of Famer. “From a young age he’s had the charisma of a superstar and is beloved by all those who get to meet him or see him play.” Tiafoe often steals the show in matches with his unique style and infectious energy. But, despite crowds of support, his visible enthusiasm did not always translate to wins, and results were wildly unpredictable.
Many thought that at 24 years old, Tiafoe had missed his chance to be great. But this year, in Flushing Meadows, New York, under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, Frances let the world know that he was not just a one-hit wonder. Certainly, it was one thing to prevail in a four-set thriller against the No. 2 seed and major record holder Rafael Nadal, but it was another entirely to carry that momentum into a mature three-set win over No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev and ultimately a five-set, nail-biting loss against eventual champion, Carlos Alcaraz.
To describe his rise within the Top 100, Tiafoe coined the phrase “Big Foe on the Come Up.” However, following his run as the first Black American man to reach a U.S. Open semifinal since Arthur Ashe in 1972, he promptly updated his slogan to “Big Foe Has Arrived.”
Tiafoe may have “arrived” in his mind, but tennis and sports fans everywhere recognize his historic accomplishment as just the beginning of a new era of Tiafoe tennis. With a supercharged hunger for the sport, reignited confidence and pure joy for what he does, there is also the impression that the sky is now the limit for this package deal of a player. He has something that is hard to put a finger on. Let’s call it the “Foe Factor.”