Frances Tiafoe is a name many die-hard U.S. tennis fans have been watching closely for years. The 21-year-old with the lanky 6-foot-2 profile wowed enthusiasts on the youth circuit before quickly turning pro as a teenager. Four years into his professional career, Tiafoe is living up to the hype with an impressive showing at the Australian Open. After a series of high-profile upsets, the Maryland native is set to take on tennis legend Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Here are five things to know about Tiafoe before tomorrow’s matchup.
He is the son of African Immigrants
Both of Tiafoe’s parents are natives of Sierra Leone. His father, Frances Sr., left the country for London in 1988 and later immigrated to Maryland in 1993. The elder Tiafoe met his wife, and Frances’ mother years later after she fled the West African nation in 1996 while it was in the midst of a brutal civil war.
“I was going to a funeral every week,” Alphona Tiafoe told the Washington Post in 2014. She worked in the office of Sierra Leone’s military force during the strife. The war lasted more than a decade and claimed the lives of at least 50,000 people.
As Tiafoe rose through the youth ranks, his parents often couldn’t afford to travel with Frances to see him play. His mom worked double-shifts at a Maryland nursing home while attending nursing school, while his father spent 11 years working as a day laborer at an elite youth tennis center where Tiafoe, and his twin brother Franklin, grew up playing in College Park, Maryland.
After advancing to the third round of Wimbledon last year, Tiafoe dedicated the win to his parents.
“I tell them all the time; it’s not even about me,” Tiafoe said after defeating Frenchman Julien Benneteau. “They sacrificed way more than I did.” He has since brought his family a house and access to a more comfortable life.
“I don’t have an excuse never to not compete in a match.”