Hyattsville’s hometown prodigy—24-year-old Frances Tiafoe—has been rising in the ranks of men’s tennis, becoming one of the best players to come out of the DC region.
Previously ranked No. 2 in world junior rankings and recently the 24th best player in men’s single tennis as of Aug. 8, Tiafoe will compete in the US Open in Queens, New York, tomorrow at 6 PM. Here’s what you should know about our local tennis star:
1. He’s the son of Sierra Leone immigrants
Called an “unlikely tennis prodigy” by Sports Illustrated, Tiafoe is the son of Alphina Kamara and Frances Sr., who immigrated to Maryland from Sierra Leone, both escaping the country’s violent civil war, in the 1990s. “I was going to a funeral every week,” said his mother Alphina, recalling her life before immigrating, to The Washington Post in 2014.
2. He grew up at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park
When Frances and his twin brother, Franklin, were one year old, their father Frances Sr. joined a construction crew building the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park in 1999. After impressing the center’s founder with his work ethic, Frances Sr. then became the tennis complex’s maintenance man and was given a spare 10-by-14-foot room at the complex to sleep in between his long working hours.
For many nights of the week, his two sons stayed with him in that room too. Although an unusual living arrangement, it gave the younger Frances unparalleled access to the sport. By the age of 5, he was enrolled, free of charge, in the center’s clinic for young children, according to a 2012 New York Times article.
“It was pure serendipity. He didn’t pick tennis; tennis picked him,” the tennis center’s chief executive Ray Benton told the Times.
3. His twin brother, Franklin, also played tennis
In a story reminiscent of the Williams’ sisters, Frances’s twin also played tennis at an early age alongside his brother. While Franklin never rose to the same competitive level as his brother (“He just wasn’t too interested,” his father told the Post), he did play tennis for DeMatha Catholic High School and later for Salisbury University.
4. He can launch serves at over 140 mph
Tiafoe is known for his aggressive offense, possessing a “a missile of a forehand” and dishing high speed serves that can reach over 140 mph. For context, the average serve speed in men’s tennis is around 120 mph, according to Tennis Creative.
5. He’s a fan of DC sports teams and athletes
Tiafoe possesses some hometown pride. His friend and fellow pro-tennis player, Denis Kudla of Arlington, told the Washington City Paper in 2018 that they both bonded over being “big Washington Capitals fans.” Also a basketball fan, Tiafoe has shown admiration for the Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant, who, like Tiafoe, also hails from the DC region.
And, of course, Tiafoe also played three seasons with the Washington Kastles.