Frances Tiafoe, the son of immigrants to the US, overcame the challenges of his early years in America to become one of the most promising and talented players in the world of international tennis. Born into a family of West African immigrants, Tiafoe grew up in Maryland and Washington D.C. Tiafoe’s father, a diamond mineworker from Sierra Leone, escaped the civil war-torn country and found his way to America. Soon after, Tiafoe’s mother, entered the Green Card diversity lottery and won it in 1996. In America, Tiafoe’s parents gave birth to twin brothers: Tiafoe and Franklin. After his father got a job as a janitor at a tennis center, the young boys and their father slept there in a spare office during the week. Young Tiafoe taught himself tennis by watching other kids play and by picking up discarded rackets.
Despite being surrounded by kids with privileged backgrounds and more opportunities, his father encouraged him. “My dad played a special role.” Tiafoe tells The Guardian. “He said: ‘Look, you could have the last laugh. You’ve got an amazing opportunity. They’ve got chauffeurs. That’s cool but is it theirs? No, they were born into it. You can earn yours.’” At age 15, Tiafoe became the youngest player to win the Orange Bowl, the most prestigious title in the tennis world for boys under 18. Earlier this year, at the Australian Open, the twenty-one-year-old came through a series of brutal matches to reach his first grand slam quarter-final. He’s hoping to capitalize off these successes in future matches. “I just need to make grand slam quarter-finals a normal thing.”
He also hopes his story helps others. “Sleeping on folding tables in the office was where my adventure started,” he says. “I was thinking, ‘How’s this story going to end?’ I saw tennis as the way to get me somewhere else. It was me thinking: ‘Can you imagine if we do this right? It would be incredible. You can’t make it up.’ I want to use the story now to inspire others. You don’t have to be from the upper echelon to be great. If you want something in life, go get it.”