Frances Tiafoe is working it — both on and off the tennis court!
The 19-year-old Hyattsville, Md., native has won just two of nine matches on the ATP World Tour this season, yet he has soared 45 spots in the men’s singles rankings.
As of June 19, Tiafoe was perched at No. 63, his highest rank since turning pro in 2015. He is No. 5 in the ATP/Next Gen rankings. The top eight players 21 and under – the eighth spot will be a wild card entry — will compete in a $1.2 million year-end tournament in Milan, Italy.
The obvious question is how does a young pro move up in the rankings with a meager 2-7 record on tour. The not-so-obvious answer in Tiafoe’s case is he works the ATP Challenger Circuit, the second level of men’s pro tennis.
In tuning up for the recently completed French Open, the amiable Tiafoe won back-to-back Challenger titles, both on clay surfaces. In each tournament, he had to conquer a wily tour veteran on his way to the championship. He beat 36-year-old Jurgen Melzer, who has five ATP titles, in the semi-finals on green clay in Sarasota, Fla.
The talented teenager followed that up by knocking off 30-year-old Jeremy Chardy, who has one ATP crown, in the finals on red clay in Aix en Provence, France.
After going 0-5 in ATP Challenger finals, Tiafoe now has four titles. Following his victory in Sarasota, he told a USTA Pro Circuit broadcaster that after losing a third-set tiebreaker in the finals last year in Lexington he adopted a mindset to be more aggressive.
“I started thinking that any time I’m in a final, I’m going to take it,” he said. “Just go for it.”
Tiafoe’s rapid rise since he turned pro has drawn significant national attention. He was highlighted on Tennis Channel, the cable television network devoted to the sport, in January as one of the next generation players to watch in 2017.
On June 20, he was featured in a segment of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” Tennis commentator Mary Carillo interviewed Tiafoe on how he handles the expectations and pressures of being a young tennis star.
Tiafoe also is being showcased as a new member of the six-time World Team Tennis champions Washington Kastles. On July 21, the team will hand out Tiafoe bobbleheads to the first 1,000 fans, courtesy of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park where Tiafoe got his start.
After starting the 2017 season ranked No. 108, Tiafoe is well on his way to reaching his goal of being among the world’s top 50 players by year’s end.
While it’s been a tough road for Tiafoe at the top level of ATP competition, he has gained some insight into what it take to win in losses to such big-time players as Juan Martin del Potro and Roger Federer.
He hopes to use that experience to get a few more World Tour victories under his belt during the summer tournaments, which include the final two majors of the ATP’s Grand Slam – Wimbledon beginning July 3 and the U.S. Open on Aug. 28.
“I hope to make some dents,” Tiafoe said in the USTA Pro Circuit interview. “I’ve definitely established myself at this level and it’s going to be tough in tour events, but it’s time.”