Culled From The Guardian…
The future of American men’s tennis glowed in the sunset on Tuesday evening. Frances Tiafoe wore an orange shirt and orange shoes and he blasted shots with his forehand that were so vicious you could hear gasps in the grandstand that rises beside Court 11.
But Frances Tiafoe is also 17 years old. He is the youngest male player in the US Open and along with screaming winners blasted down the lines come missed returns and serves into the net. At times on Tuesday Tiafoe looked ready for stardom. At others he looked like he was 17. He rolled his shoulders, he screamed, he threw his racket. Eventually he lost his first round match to 22nd-ranked Viktor Troicki 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.
We are supposed to be on the verge of a new era here in the United States. A line of fresh stars that could someday rival Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi are said to be coming along. Tiafoe is good. At times he is very good. It is easy to imagine that in another two or three years he won’t be playing his matches in the setting sun on Court 11 but in one of the stadiums that loom outside.
On Tuesday, though, Tiafoe was a teenager playing against a real pro.”When I broke his serve he remained calm,” Tiafoe later said.
This comes with experience. For a time on Tuesday Tiafoe looked as if he could pull a miracle. He came at Troicki with a fury, ripping forehands past his opponent then delicately placing backhand volleys far from Troicki’s grasp. He reached everything Troicki hit his way. There was nothing he couldn’t reach. Several times Troicki looked to have hit a winner only to be surprised when the ball came flying back.
When Tiafoe broke Troicki’s serve to go up 4-3 in the first set he threw his hands in the air, feeling the roar from the hundreds who filled the bleachers around him. Anything seemed possible. Then Troicki broke him right back. Up 30-0 Tiafoe was suddenly down 30-40 and he appeared to have no idea how this had happened. He hit a return wide, watched as Troicki screamed, then he let his shoulders slump.
A half hour later he lost the second set on another broken serve heaving his racket in disgust.
Later, he sounded sheepish about the tossed racket, which rolled across the court finally coming to rest against the net. He hated giving up the serve, he said. His limited matches in professional tennis have taught him the value of holding serve. In the men’s game the serve is everything. He knew he had lost concentration and that agonized him the most.
“I was down two sets to love and when you are playing the No22 player in the world that is pretty much it,” Tiafoe said. Then he smiled. “I didn’t think (the racket) would go so far,” he said. “Being young sometimes that stuff creeps up on me.”
He is the kind of story America should love, the child of immigrants from Sierra Leone who settled in the Maryland suburbs of Washington DC. His father helped to build the College Park Tennis Club then took a job doing maintenance at the academy. Tiafoe and his brother spent five nights a week with their father living in a room deep inside the center. While their father worked, they taught themselves tennis. They became good. Last month, Tiafoe won the under-18 national tennis championship. Now the US is looking at him to be its next great male tennis hope.
So many times on Tuesday Tiafoe looked like a player on the verge of something big. He blasted huge serves, he hit twisting backhand winners, he smooched volleys gently over the net. He had the shots to beat the world’s 22nd-ranked player, but he lacked the experience to put him away.
Soon enough that experience will come. He kept shaking his head as he pondered the chance that sat before him in the sunset on Court 11, the opportunity to have rattled one of the world’s top players.
“I could have easily won a set,” he said. “I could have easily served for the set. It’s frustrating. These kinds of losses keep your hunger to keep yourself at this level. I’m willing to put in the work and reach that (top) level soon.”
The future of American men’s tennis was close on Tuesday. Closer than his straight sets loss will say. The biggest thing that held Frances Tiafoe back was a number. He is just 17. He can be the future in good time.