The success of Frances Tiafoe can be attributed to hard work and dedication, and making the most of bad circumstances.
Frances Tiafoe reached the semi-finals of the US Open, but there is a fascinating tale behind his achievement.
Frances Tiafoe and his twin brother Franklin were born in Hyattsville, Maryland, a tiny town outside Washington, D.C.
Frances’s father, Frances Sr, had worked in the diamond mines of his native Sierra Leone. He had left a nation ripped apart by civil war and made his way to America. His wife, Alphina, struck it lucky when, in 1996, she joined the green card lottery. And the two settled down in Maryland.
Still, with no schooling, no money, no relatives nearby, and no resources, the Tiafoe family struggled to make ends meet. Alphina found employment as a nurse during the week, frequently working several hours and spending the night at the hospital, while Constant became a day worker on a construction team constructing a neighbouring sports complex.
The facility they were developing was the Junior Tennis Champions Center, and more than two decades later, it is still one of the best tennis facilities in the United States.
It was said that Constant was one of the crew’s hardest workers, so after the tennis centre’s construction was over, he was employed as the permanent custodian and given an empty office to stay in.
Chronically starved for income, Tiafoe Sr. worked two jobs: maintaining the complex clean by day and taking care of the clay courts at night. He had never played tennis in his life. But he rapidly learned to water and roll the courts and sometimes fully resurface them, bringing hundreds of 75-pound bags of clay to each court.
It was while working these round-the-clock hours that he moved into an empty 10-by-14-foot room at the tennis facility. He also showered, ate, and stored his clothes (on hang, in a suitcase, and in an outdoor shed) there. The boys stayed with him while their mother, Alphina Kamara, worked night shifts as a qualified practical nurse.
Tennis lessons for the twins began so long ago that none of them can recall their very first time picking up a racket. To keep them entertained while their father worked, club members would wheel them about in a stroller and lavish attention on them. As a former high school sprinter who missed the excitement of competing, Tiafoe Sr., a gregarious guy with a huge grin and long dreadlocks, became an unofficial ambassador of the Junior Tennis Champions Center, welcoming visitors, cleaning members’ vehicles, and even taking up the game himself. And when his sons were five, he had them registered at a free clinic for young children.
Since Frances Sr worked at the academy, Frances Jr had access to free training with top trainers, and it was there that he first fell in love with the sport.
Frances’s training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center began when he was only five. By the time Frances was eight years old, his skill and work ethic had caught the attention of coach Misha Kouznetsov, who decided to train him full-time. Frances played every day, all day. At the age of nine, the coach outfitted him in a brand new shirt and shoes and drove him to his first tennis competition, which he won.
So the two of them started going to junior tennis events throughout the nation, with Kouznetsov often footing the bill. Soon after, the United States Tennis Association came to Tiafoe’s aid, and he began winning major junior events in the United Kingdom, France, and Los Angeles. When he was 19, Tiafoe was challenging Nadal and Roger Federer on the tennis court, when he had originally set his sights on a college scholarship.
Since transitioning to pro tennis in 2015, Frances Tiafoe has won only one tournament. Even so, he is presently playing the greatest tennis of his life and has won over $6 million in prize money.
The Tiafoe family was dealt a bad hand, but instead of moping about, they made the most of dire circumstances.