US Open 2022 – Can Frances Tiafoe be the first American man to win the US Open in nearly 20 years?

NEW YORK – The bracelet on Frances Tiafoe’s bat hand reads “Believe. Why Not Me”.

After beating Rafael Nadal and Andrey Rublev in front of packed stadiums, many more believe his time may now have come.

Perhaps Tiafoe will be the one to end the 19-year losing streak for a US men’s singles champion at the US Open.

Watching him play is a delight: the way he sprints back after substitutions, his flashy play, the wonderful range of shots, his reckless serve. And even the sheer carnage of the scene behind his chair at the end of the game, clothes and shoes strewn everywhere.

“My player bank is devilish. Yes, she does the work, so who cares right now?” Tiafoe said after his match against Rublev.

And all of that is spiced up with his incredible backstory and infectious personality.

“Hopefully one day there will be a movie about him,” said his coach Wayne Ferreira after defeating Rublev.

Born in Maryland, the 24-year-old is the son of immigrants who moved to the United States from war-torn Sierra Leone in the 1990s. His father Constant worked on building the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, D.C. Constant eventually ended up at the caretaker’s job and was given a room where his boys – Frances and his twin brother Franklin – would sleep some nights since their mother Alphina as Nurse worked double shifts.

“It wasn’t supposed to be something like this,” Tiafoe said earlier this week. “When we started playing tennis, my dad said, ‘It would be great if you guys could use that as a full scholarship for school.’ We couldn’t afford college, so take advantage of the tennis game.”

Nine years ago, in 2013, he won the Orange Bowl – a junior tournament also won by Roger Federer, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

Another winner there was Andy Roddick – the man Tiafoe is now following in his footsteps at Flushing Meadows. Tiafoe’s win over Rublev made him the youngest American semifinalist since Roddick in 2006. Roddick was also the last American to win the US Open in 2003.

But that’s Tiafoe’s path, and he’s going it his own way, motivated by the dreams of success he had as a youngster. He calls the big three in men’s tennis the “Mount Rushmore Guys”, but it was Serena and Venus Williams who captured his imagination and have remained his idols. He’s worn a Serena GOAT hoodie to go onto the pitch in his last two games.

“It was around that time that I saw Serena and Venus [Williams] Playing finals of Grand Slams when I was very young, I thought, ‘How cool would it be to play Wimbledon, play Arthur Ashe and stuff like that?’” Tiafoe said after his win over Nadal. Now he’s the first black American to reach the semifinals of the US Open since Ashe did it herself in 1972.

And if he takes center stage to play Carlos Alcaraz on Friday, he’ll have the whole pitch behind him.

This is a run that has long been hinted at but never realised. His best result in an ATP 1000 tournament was a quarterfinals in Miami in 2019. His best run so far in a Grand Slam was the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in the same year. There was the ability, but the results didn’t match.

“We’ve done a lot of mental work over the last few months to deal with the big, important situations,” Ferreira said after beating Rublev. “He reached them exceptionally well. The ball stroke has been good for the last few months. That was something that was good for us. It’s easy to finish games.”

Ferreira also referenced how they’ve been working on his diet. “He liked a lot of sweets and chocolates and cookies,” Ferreira said. “He ate at unusual times. He missed breakfast a lot. Didn’t have good times on when to eat before games, what to eat after games. You need a little guidance on this side, and he’s done well, on this side.”

Here at the US Open, Tiafoe never once ate in a restaurant, instead ordering from Morton’s Steakhouse.

They have modified their training so that workouts are shorter, cell phones are banned, and Tiafoe runs without music to sharpen his focus.

“I think during that time the cameras weren’t on me, the attention wasn’t on me, I was able to sort of improve and do my own thing,” Tiafoe said after the Rublev game. “I stopped trying to be the guy. Like things would happen, it would happen. I agreed. I was happy with myself. Yes, now everything has come to fruition.”

Tiafoe’s US Open tournament began on court 17 with a first-round win over Marcos Giron. Six days later – after saying goodbye to Jason Kubler and Diego Schwartzman – he played on Ashe against Nadal.

After 3 hours and 34 minutes he defeated him. That defeat had wider implications for the men’s title, with Karen Khachanov saying after beating Nick Kyrgios that Tiafoe’s triumph meant the others saw him as an “opportunity to lift the trophy” after one of the GOATs was dispatched was.

But it’s one thing to see the favorite knocked out and another to process the player who made it and all that goes with it.

Another of his bracelets reads “Be Your Own GOAT”. That win over Nadal was a milestone for Tiafoe, and after the match he saw a tweet from LeBron James praising him. “Man, I lost my composure in the dressing room,” Tiafoe said. “Bro, I was going crazy. Yeah, I mean, that’s my guy. When I saw him post that, I was like, ‘Do I tweet it once he sent it?’ I was like, ‘You know what, I’m going to be cool and pretend I didn’t see it and then retweet it three hours later.'”

Tiafoe had a sleepless night after this match.

“The difficulty is that Rafa was the best player he’s ever beaten,” said Ferreira. “Going from there and playing two days later is always very, very difficult. So we tried really hard to get him to enjoy the moment but try to move on.”

They focused on living in the moment. After defeating Rublev, Tiafoe raised his hands to Ashe’s closed roof, danced a little and then walked over to hug Bradley Beal, another of his basketball heroes. Beal, who plays for Tiafoe’s hometown Washington Wizards, had the best seat in the house front row to watch America’s sports star.

Tiafoe then looked over at his box. He saw his father standing motionless with glee and as they made eye contact Constant raised his hands to the roof, Alphina hugged his girlfriend Ayan Broomfield while each and every one stood in collective joyful disbelief with Ferreira in the midst.

But it all came together for Tiafoe against Rublev. “It was a ridiculous tiebreaker to be honest,” said Tiafoe. “You can’t make that up.”

With Tiafoe only two games away from tennis immortality, there’s no danger of getting carried away. “There are many great players who haven’t had a great career because they haven’t won anything,” said Ferreira. “For me it’s about winning. I think he has to win. That boils down to success through winning and winning.”

Tiafoe will try again to hit the reset button before the semifinals. He doesn’t want to be another near miss story.

“I love showing the world what I can do,” Tiafoe said. “Then it makes me feel good when people appreciate how hard you try there and appreciate good tennis, especially where I come from. Seeing how many people I can get behind me. Means a lot.

“When you’re really, really passionate about something, anything can happen, and I’m just obsessed with it. Right now I’m just really obsessed with tennis and I want to see how far I can go with this thing.”

He’ll listen to his mother’s advice before every game – play the man, not the name. And he will remember the motto on his wrist.

“[I] Look at this: yes, why not me? You put the time in, so why not me? Believe in yourself, it’s so big,” Tiafoe said. “You have to believe in yourself before anyone else does.” US Open 2022 – Can Frances Tiafoe be the first American man to win the US Open in nearly 20 years?

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