Tiafoe relishing role model status at US Open

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2022-09-08 04:08:16


NEW YORK:

Frances Tiafoe says he hopes to inspire a new generation of Black tennis players after moving to within two wins of becoming the first African-American in 54 years to win the US Open.

The 24-year-old has lit up this year’s championships after a giant-killing run that saw him eliminate Rafael Nadal before Wednesday’s quarter-final demolition of Russian ninth seed Andrey Rublev.

Tiafoe’s assured 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/0), 6-4 victory over Rublev has left the 22nd seed on course to become the first Black male player to win the Open since Arthur Ashe in 1968.

Tiafoe wants his performances in New York to leave a lasting mark on US tennis.

“Every time I win, I just want to inspire a bunch of people to just know that anything is possible,” Tiafoe said.

“At the end of the day I love that because of Frances Tiafoe there is a lot of people of color playing tennis.

“That’s obviously a goal for me. That’s why I’m out here trying pretty hard.”

Tiafoe was introduced to tennis at an early age, after his father, who moved to the US to escape civil war in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s, took a job as a live-in caretaker at a tennis training facility in Maryland.

“I was playing tennis hours and hours around the game, soaking up the game, watching the game,” Tiafoe said.

“It was my life. The only thing I really watched growing up was Tennis Channel. I mean, you end up just falling in love with it.”

Prior to Wednesday, Tiafoe’s best result at a Grand Slam was a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open in 2019.

But after beating Nadal on Monday and taking care of Rublev on Wednesday, Tiafoe has American fans daring to dream he can go all the way to clinch a maiden Slam.

“I just love playing in front of packed people,” Tiafoe said. “I love to show the world what I can do…To see how many people I can get behind me. Means a lot.”

Huge crowds of wellwishers mobbed Tiafoe as he conducted post-match television interviews on the concourse of the Billie Jean King Tennis Center on Wednesday.

“That’s love, man,” Tiafoe said later. “I really appreciate that. You know, that stuff gets me emotional, for sure.

“Seeing people like screaming your name, just loving what you’re doing. That’s awesome. That’s what it’s all about.

“Everyone loves a Cinderella story. (I’m) just trying to make one.”

Against Rublev on Wednesday, Tiafoe surged to victory behind an impregnable service game that included 18 aces and was not broken once.

Tiafoe took control after dominating the decisive tie breaks, including winning the second set breaker 7/0.

Back-to-back aces took him into a 5-0 lead before a beautiful sliced backhand gave him six points for a two-set lead.

“Things just started happening,” Tiafoe said. “It was honestly a laughable tiebreaker. You can’t make that up.”

Tiafoe will face either Spanish third seed Carlos Alcaraz or Jannik Sinner in Friday’s semis.

“They are both great players,” Tiafoe said. “It’s going to be great tennis. I think they will be Grand Slam champions when they have done their careers, for sure.”

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