Roger Federer is arguably the best tennis player of all time. But on Tuesday night at the U.S. Open, he was almost beat by a relatively unknown teenage player.
Frances Tiafoe is just 19, but he pushed Federer into the fifth round, beating the legend in two sets. While it’s exciting that a Hyattsville, Maryland, teen almost managed to trump the Swiss legend, what’s even more incredible is Tiafoe’s life story.
Born in College Park, Maryland, Tiafoe grew up with very little.
His parents, Frances Sr. and Alphina, fled Sierra Leone during the civil war. Before they got out, though, Tiafoe’s dad worked under notoriously grueling conditions in the country’s diamond mines as a teenager.
When they arrived in Maryland, the couple started building a life in the U.S. They had two kids and Frances Sr. took a job at the Junior Tennis Champions Center.
From when they were just toddlers on, Frances Sr. would bring Tiafoe and his twin brother to work every day. “It was just normal to pick up a racket and starting hitting balls against a wall,” Franklin said.
But it wasn’t all fun and games for the kids. Since Frances Sr. worked 12-hour days, the young boys often slept at the facility overnight on a massage table.
Frances Sr. was devoted to his work, though, and when he asked the tennis center’s CEO if his two sons could practice for free, the request was met with a resounding yes.
It wasn’t long before everyone saw that Tiafoe had serious potential.
His dad’s work ethic definitely rubbed off on him as he took title after title as a young boy before going professional in 2015.
On Tuesday night, Tiafoe gave the tennis great Federer a run for his money. After tying 2-2 in the first four matches, the teen pushed the 19-time Grand Slam champion into a fifth game. Ultimately, he lost, but not before showing his true determination to never give up.
That strength of character transcends a drive to win: “I play for so much more than myself. I play for my family. I play to put my family in a better situation all around. I play to really inspire young kids.”
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