It looked like a defining moment in the 24-year-old American’s career; the culmination of hard work and raw talent that has long been heralded as the potential future of men’s tennis in the country.
Now, with Tiafoe reaching the semi-finals beating Andrey Rublev in straight sets on Wednesday, he has recorded the best Grand Slam result of his career – a feat all the more impressive considering his humble beginnings.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd were thrilled with the play of Tiafoe, the first black American man to reach a US Open semi-final since Ashe in 1972. And in a match where he did not drop a service match against the world No. 11, he couldn’t let them down.
“I feel so comfortable on courts like this. This court is amazing. You are so far behind me, you know I want to play and give my best. I always find a way to ‘one way or another on this court. I always try to play good tennis and I was,” he said in an on-court interview right after math. Let’s enjoy this one. We have two other guys. We have two more.”
Tiafoe’s road to tennis is anything but traditional.
Their father, Constant Tiafoe, started working at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, DC in 1999 and eventually moved into one of his vacant storage rooms while working around the clock.
His two boys sometimes stayed with him, sleeping on a massage table, while their mother worked night shifts as a nurse.
The unusual gateway into the sport gave Tiafoe the opportunity to start developing his skills, and after he started training at the facility, he didn’t look back.
Driven by his parents’ work ethic, he won the prestigious Orange Bowl – one of tennis’ most prized junior tournaments – at age 15, becoming the youngest male singles champion in tournament history.
He joined a list of former champions that included Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
It was a sign of things to come.
Maturing on tour
Tiafoe turned pro in 2015 and began to learn about the rigors of senior touring.
He broke into the world top 100 and started to assert himself at Grand Slams – reaching his first quarter-final at the Australian Open in 2019 before losing to Nadal.
Three years later and he found himself in another quarter-final as the world No. 26 on Wednesday, but this time he felt more ready to seize the opportunity.
“Honestly, when I came on the scene, I wasn’t mentally ready and mature enough,” he said on the pitch after beating Nadal. “I was able to evolve and I have a great team around me.
“I’m happy to have won in front of my mum, my dad, my girlfriend and my team and let them see what I did.”
As he cements himself as a competitor on the court, Tiafoe also pursues social justice.
In 2022, he told CNN Sport that the lack of diversity in sports had made him feel like an “outsider” and he vowed to continue fighting for equality while he still had the platform. form to do so.
He created a protest video in 2022 to raise awareness of racial injustices after the death of George Floyd sparked protests across the world.
Working with a host of black players and coaches – such as Serena Williams and Coco Gauff – he posted the “Rackets Down, Hands Up” video to his social media.
His performances even caught the eye of some of the biggest names in the sport, with NBA star LeBron James congratulating Tiafoe on reaching the quarter-finals.
Don’t get me wrong, though, this isn’t an overnight success. It’s the product of thousands of hours of hard work and a mindset that won’t accept rejection.
However, while the weight of a nation rests on her shoulders, Tiafoe has always focused on her parents’ pride.
“With them trying so hard, I felt like I didn’t want to let them down,” he told CNN Sport in 2015. for granted.”
CNN’s Jacob Lev, Steve Almasy, Will Edmonds and Christina Macfarlane contributed reporting.
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