HYATTSTOWN, Md. — Frances Tiafoe first picked up a tennis racket at the age of five. Little did he know, 19 years later he would be picking up a racket for a match that puts him one step closer to the history books.
If Tiafoe can complete his Cinderella story, the 24-year-old phenom would be the first Black man to win the U.S. Open in more than 50 years. Fittingly, Tiafoe will be playing Friday evening on a court named for the first man to hold that title, Arthur Ashe, who made history in 1968.
In his last five singles matches, Tiafoe has only lost one set in the U.S. Open's fourth round against Rafael Nadal, who he ultimately defeated, ending Nadal's 22-match Grand Slam winning streak.
"This is wild," Tiafoe said in an exclusive interview with WUSA9 after securing his spot in the semifinals. "I mean, all this really hasn't sunk in yet. I'm kind of living in the moment with it."
Ahead of his semifinal match against Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, get to know the Prince Georgian even better.
Double the trouble
He's a twin! Frances and Franklin Tiafoe were born on Jan. 20, 1998 in Hyattsville, Maryland to Constant and Alpina Tiafoe. Both boys showed an early aptitude for tennis, and Franklin went on to play at DeMatha Catholic High School and Salisbury University.
Tiafoe's discipline is rooted in ambition for himself and his parents, who were immigrants from Sierra Leone. His father came to the U.S. in 1993, fleeing the country's civil war, and his mother joined in 1996. Alpina Tiafoe would work night shifts as nurse while their father taught tennis at the center he helped to build, and later worked at as a custodian.
Tiafoe got his start at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland in 2003 -- the same center his father helped to build. After the construction ended, Constant Tiafoe was kept on as maintenance manager and given a room at the center to stay in. The Tiafoe twins even spent some nights there while their mother worked her nursing shifts.
Tiafoe has faced an uphill battle from the start of the Open, coming into the tournament ranked. No. 22 in the field. He first made waves taking down the No. 2 seed, Nadal, and then making quick work of No. 9 seed, Andrey Rublev. On Friday, he'll face the No. 3 seed, Alcaraz.
The list of "firsts" for Tiafoe is long. His victory over Nadal moved him to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the first time in his career. Beating Rublev in the quarterfinals made him the first American man to make the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 16 years. He's also the youngest American to make it to that level since 2005.
If he walks away from his match with Alcaraz victorious, Tiafoe will be the first Black man from the U.S. to play in a championship match in any major tournament since MaliVai Washington competed at Wimbledon in 1996.
Finally, he is two wins away from being the first Black man to raise the U.S. Open trophy since 1968.
Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal was sitting courtside Wednesday as Tiafoe secured his place in the semifinals, and he helped continue a tradition begun by Alpina Tiafoe. After Tiafoe would win a game, his mother would shake her fist to encourage her son. At one point during the third set, Tiafoe and Beal flexed their muscles at each other. Tiafoe seemed to be energized by the show of hometown support during the match.
"Bradley is definitely my favorite player in the league, he's been that for a while. Seeing how pumped up [he] is about it is awesome, and that gives you a lift."
Meeting and beating his icon
Juan Martin Del Potro was Tiafoe's idol growing up, as he was the first tennis pro to sign a ball for him as a child, according to an interview he did in 2017. Tiafoe got to face his idol at the 24th edition of the Abierto Mexicano Telcel tournament in 2017 -- Tiafoe lost in a tiebreak. But in 2018, Tiafoe would get a second chance at the Delray Beach Open, and that time he got the W.
Stars... they're just like us
Over the course of the Open, fans have started to notice one very relatable tidbit about Tiafoe: as he competes, his bench houses a growing collection of sweaty, discarded shirts. The tennis star acknowledged his own mess after Wednesday's win, calling the bench "diabolical," though the grin he wore while saying it would indicate he regrets nothing!