WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two years ago, then 16-year-old Frances Tiafoe made his ATP World Tour debut in front of his home crowd at the Citi Open in western Washington, D.C. after he received a wild card entry into the main draw. He shouldn’t be surprised if he has a slight case of déjà vu next […]
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two years ago, then 16-year-old Frances Tiafoe made his ATP World Tour debut in front of his home crowd at the Citi Open in western Washington, D.C. after he received a wild card entry into the main draw.
He shouldn’t be surprised if he has a slight case of déjà vu next week.
Tiafoe will return to the Citi Open for the first time since his debut, as the Hyattsville native once again received a wild card entry into the tournament’s main draw. Seedings and the bracket had yet to be announced as of press time, however, the earliest he could play would be July 18.
“It was great,” Tiafoe said of his experience in 2014. “It was an experience I will never forget and it was great to play in front of people I love and really care about. It was a hyped crowd. I played around nine at night and the crowd was just going crazy for me.
“I hadn’t had a lot of experience at the time with playing in that big of a stadium. It was a huge event, the ATP 500. Playing (Evgeny Donskoy) who was (ranked) 111 in the world at 16-years-old – you are pretty stoked. I was happy. I lost 6-4, 6-4. I played a pretty good match, but now this year I am doing a lot better and I am ready to go.”
A lot has happened since that match on July 28, 2014. After losing the match to Donskoy, Tiafoe turned professional full-time in 2015. While he went just 1-5 that year (not including a 1-1 doubles record with Sachia Vickery in the U.S. Open), Tiafoe gained a lot of experience and made a huge jump in the rankings.
During Tiafoe’s run in the Challenger Circuit, commonly known as the second highest level of tennis competition, he put together a run that pushed him into the top 400. Entering as a qualifier in the Sarasota Open, Tiafoe defeated five opponents en route to the quarterfinals. He then reached the semifinals of the Savannah Challenger. In the third and final event of the clay court series, Tiafoe notched his first win against a top-100 opponent, as he defeated Facundo Bagnis in the first round of the Tallahassee Tennis Challenger. He would later reach his first final at the Challenger level in Tallahassee, but lost to Facundo Arguello after winning the first set, 6-2, 6-7, 4-6.
Through this, Tiafoe earned enough rankings points to win the 2015 Har-Tru Challenge and earned the only American wild card spot into the main draw of the 2015 French Open – becoming the youngest American to participate in the draw since Michael Chang did so in 1989. He would lose to Martin Klizan in straight sets in the first round.
In August of that year, at the Winston-Salem Open, Tiafoe won his first ATP tour level match by defeating James Duckworth, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6.
By winning the Kalamazoo Junior National Championship earlier in August, Tiafoe earned a wild card into the main draw at the U.S. Open, making for his second Grand Slam wild card of the year. Again, he would fall in the first round.
After the U.S. Open, he continued his success on the Challenger Tour and was able to reach a second final at Knoxville, but lost in three sets to Dan Evans. However, fueled by that final and his other Challenger results, Tiafoe reached a year-end ranking of 176 and cracked the top 200 a few months before turning 18 years old.
“Last year was a great year for me,” said Tiafoe, who is currently ranked 167th in the world and 15th in the United States. “I got to play in the U.S. Open main draw. Earned the wild card at the French Open. Played on the Challenger Tour. I started like (ranked) 1,000-something and then ended the year around 170.
“I’ve grown a lot as a player, as a human being and a professional. I am excited for the rest of this season and the rest of my career.”
This year, Tiafoe was named one of 14 ATP “Next Generation” players. The group, which includes two other Americans in Jared Donaldson (No. 157) and Taylor Fritz (No. 80), introduces an exciting crop of young and talented players who are rising to prominence on the ATP World Tour. The 14 players are in the top-200 of the Emirates ATP Rankings and were born in 1995 or later.
“It’s a big group of us and I am proud to be a part of it,” he said. “I have been battling for a year now and it feels good to be recognized. My head is in the right place. I’ve been working really hard to be as good as I can be. At the end of the day, you just have to keep working hard.”
So far in 2016, Tiafoe has posted a 1-3 record. His second professional singles victory came against Fritz in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in March where he won 6-3, 2-6, 6-3. He then lost in a tiebreak to David Goffin, the tournament’s 15th seed, 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (2-7). His last ATP match was in April at the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championships, where he lost to Matthew Barton.
The Citi Open awarded him the wild card for this year’s tournament just for being a hometown kid.
“We’re excited to offer Frances home-court advantage in this year’s tournament,” said Jeff Newman, tournament director. “Washington fans have a chance to come out and support our hometown talent. I know we can expect great things from him in the coming years.”
As for Tiafoe, he just wants to go out and have fun in front of his home crowd.
“My goal is to go out there and just have fun,” he said. “Usually when I am having fun that is when I am playing my best, so I am just going to enjoy the moment. I hope I play at night.
“It’s a big event. There are a lot of big names playing. I am just happy to be a part of it and hopefully I can upset some guys.”