Frances Tiafoe, the 17-year-old who has been hailed for the better part of the last 18 months as America’s next great tennis star, notched his first ATP victory on Monday night in the opening round of the ATP Winston-Salem Open.
Tiafoe battled the Australian world No 92 James Duckworth, dropping the opening set 3-6 before fighing back in successive tie-breaks, winning the second set 7-6 (7/4) and polishing off the breakthrough victory 7-6 (7/3). It was the rare feat of a match victory without once breaking his opponent’s serve.
After the match Tiafoe retweeted tennis writer @ProdigyRep who wrote "1st of many ATP level wins for Big Foe. Congrats."
Tiafoe's backstory has helped him gain fame – his father emigrated to the US from Sierra Leone and took a job at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, resulting in his son's literally growing up with the game.
Tiafoe went on to become the youngest winner of the prestigious junior championship Orange Bowl, at age 15, besting the likes of Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg.
Ths year the upstart has advanced along the ATP route in fits and starts, registering victories in the qualification phase of a couple tournaments but until Winston-Salem only appearing in a tournament proper as a wild card. At the French Open he was defeated in straight sets by Martin Klizan.
Over the weekend though he qualified of his own accord for the first time in an ATP tournament, beating Patrick Daciek, Radu Albiot and Ryan Harrison to seal the main draw appearance. His next task will be much stiffer in on-form sixth seed Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil, the world No 30.
The tournament is headlined by top seeds Gilles Simon and Kevin Anderson. Tiafoe’s fellow teenager, the fast-rising Borna Coric, 18, has already advanced to the last 16 after beating Santiago Giraldo 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Monday night. Australian 19-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis also remains in the tournament after a first-round straight sets win over Alexandr Dolgopolov while Korea’s Hyeon Chung, also 19, defeated Britain’s James Ward in the opening round.
The tournament continues on Tuesday with Tiafoe, Kokkinakis and Chung in action, the latter two facing Teymuraz Gabashvili and Benoit Paire, respectively. Anderson faces Mikhail Kukushkin and Simone matches up with British No 2 Aljaz Bedene.
US Open qualifying also starts Tuesday in a draw that includes top-seeded Paul-Henri Mathieu, the world No 80, and second-seeded German 18-year-old Alexander Zverev, paired with Horacio Zeballos. Others to keep an eye on include British 20-year-old Kyle Edmund, the sixth seed opening against Peter Polansky and 19-year-old Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka, the 23rd seed paired against India’s Yuki Bhambri. Other familiar veterans like Taro Daniel, Nicolas Almagro, Albert Montanes and Ivan Dodig will be seeking a place at the US Open, which starts August 31, through qualifying.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE