Charging into his maiden Masters semifinal in Indian Wells reinforces Frances Tiafoe’s major dream.
By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Growing up in Maryland, Frances Tiafoe sometimes slept on the floor of the tennis club where his father was head of maintenance.
These days, Tiafoe is taking big strides toward tracking his major dream.
Facing the firing line is when Carlos Alcaraz’s game is most alive.
Applying his variety, Tiafoe took down 2021 Indian Wells champion Cameron Norrie 6-4, 6-4, to charge into his first Masters 1000 semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open.
The No. 14-seeded Tiafoe ended Norrie’s eight-match winning streak and aims to play semifinal streak buster as well.
Daniil Medvedev defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in today’s second quarterfinal and rides an 18-match winning streak into his semifinal vs. Tiafoe.
Asserting his speed to attack, Tiafoe won 12 of 15 trips to net and knows he’ll need to exploit the frontcourt if he’s to upset 2021 US Open champion Medvedev.
“I’m using my speed a lot more to be aggressive, not just to react to balls and out the corners and stuff,” Tiafoe said. “I’m doing that much better now. Using my speed to be aggressive, coming forward much more, sticking volleys, and just being athletic out there.
“It’s tough for guys. I’m really coming at you.”
Five months after Tiafoe toppled Rafael Nadal en route to his maiden major semifinal at the US Open, he’s into his first Masters 1000 final four.
Tiafoe says he’s driven by one major goal: “Win a Grand Slam.”
“Be No. 1 in the world, great, but if I can walk away from the game, I won a slam, I will sleep totally well at night,” Tiafoe said. “No one’s gonna tell me shit. I’m gonna be, Oh, I’m a Grand Slam champion. I will be pumped, preferably US Open. Yeah, that’s to go. And I’m in semis at Indian Wells, so why not try to win Indian Wells first? Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the one thing I want to actually, to win a Grand Slam.”
Initially, the burden of being another American Grand Slam hope knocked Tiafoe off track. He concedes day-to-day discipline eluded him in his younger years.
“I’m a guy came from very humble beginnings,” said Tiafoe, whose parents emigrated to the United States from Sierra Leone. “I came on the scene, I was 18 years old, 19 years old, in top 100. Guys thinking I’m gonna be the guy to do it, X, Y, and Z, American hope, blah, blah, blah.
“It was tough. I don’t think I was really ready for it. You know, I was, you know, a young guy having money, I was enjoying my life, you know, outside activities and stuff like that. Now I just honed it in.”
Seeing the Slam progress of young players he grew up facing in juniors and wanting to experience green days of his own inspired Tiafoe, who tapped into his love of the game and for improving.
“I think the main thing was, you know, these guys ahead of me, seeing guys I grew up with, playing juniors with, Andrey, Zverev, Tsitsipas, am I just gonna let these guys take all the money out here for years to come?” Tiafoe said. “Because, I mean, I played these guys and beat them on the odd occasion, but I just wasn’t doing these kind of things and winning consistent matches. I was like, All right, I mean, something’s gotta give here.”
Hiring coach Wayne Ferreira, has helped Tiafoe turn his career around.
When Ferreira started working with Tiafoe he saw a little bit of his younger self in the man from Maryland.
“I think I helped him because I played and I went through the issues of being relatively talented and being lazy, and then finding the right team, people behind me pushing me to do the right thing day to day with the food, practicing and with the fitness and gym work,” Ferreira said during the US Open last summer. “That’s something he had to really change. He had to really improve the food. Food intake was terrible at the beginning. The effort on the practices and on the court wasn’t good enough.
“It’s taken time for us to get gradually to where we are today. He still has a few things to improve and do better, but it’s been a bit of a struggle.”
Rising back to No. 14 in the live rankings, Tiafoe isn’t sleeping on his talent anymore.
“I love this game too much to not figure it out. Yeah, hiring Wayne, you know, he’s getting a tight team around me,” Tiafoe said. “Just holding myself accountable and just having that curiosity of how good I can be at this game.
“You know, I got a, you know, gift from the man above and I just want to see what I can do with this game. I owe it a lot.”
Photo credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty