Frances Tiafoe Reaches U.S. Open Semifinal, Makes History Along The Way


Although Tiafoe was eliminated, his impact was great at the U.S. Open. (Courtesy of Twitter)

As he emphatically punched his racket towards the sky in celebration after defeating number nine ranked Russian Andrey Rublev, 24 year-old phenom Frances Tiafoe inched closer to immortality, making history along the way.

A crowd of more than 20,000 eagerly packed into Arthur Ashe Stadium last Wednesday afternoon to watch Tiafoe, fresh off defeating world number two ranked Rafael Nadal in four sets. He did not disappoint.

Tiafoe took down the uber-talented Rublev in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4 to reach the U.S. Open semifinals and become the first American male since Andy Roddick to accomplish the feat in 2006. Back then, George W. Bush was the president, the iPhone was just a concept and “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter was the No. 1 song in America. This achievement comes days after Tiafoe became the first American man to defeat ageless wonder Rafael Nadal in a major tournament since James Blake in 2005, also in the U.S. Open.

What is most incredible is that Tiafoe’s historic win makes him the first African-American man to reach a U.S. Open semifinal appearance since Arthur Ashe in 1972.
For Tiafoe, and those closest to the star, this has been a long time coming. Komi Akli, Tiafoe’s personal coach at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, Md., has known him since he was just five years old.

“He has been training for this for a long time, to get to this level, to maintain the level of the quality he’s playing at,” Akli said.

Akli also recounts training alongside a 15-year-old Tiafoe at the Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship, a major tournament for tennis’s rising stars around the world. Just being there was an accomplishment on its own, but what happened during the tournament, Akli remembers, made him realize the special player Tiafoe could become.
“He broke all his strings, he broke his shoe. He had to use my racket to finish and win the whole match. That’s when I knew. He doesn’t care, he just plays,” Akli said. Lost amongst the dazzling slices, crafty volleys and powerful serves, Tiafoe’s ascension serves as a beacon of hope for the next generation of American tennis players, specifically African-Americans. According to a 2013 USTA report, 77% of all tennis participants are white, 14% are Latino and 9% are Black. While there have been prominent figures in the past, Tiafoe’s success on the courts in a new era of digital media and advanced socialization has a chance to pay incredible dividends for those that will come after him.

“It means a lot for not even just African-American players but just the whole nation,” said Akli.

Tiafoe is also at the ripe age of 24, at the same time when the top forces for last two decades (Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal) have shown signs of slowing down due to injury or vaccination issues in the Serbian’s case. With his youth, a new found consistency and dominance at his side, Tiafoe looks primed to be at the center of the new wave of tennis stars, while also serving as an usher for the next generation.

Tiafoe’s run ended Friday night when he fell to #3 Carlos Alcaraz in a thrilling five set match. Akli, however, does not want the focus to be on the loss.
“We are still celebrating. This has been a big week for him, we are so proud of him and we are so proud of JTCC.”