How Frances Tiafoe went from sleeping in a tennis center to the semi-finals of the US Open – CNN

How Frances Tiafoe went from sleeping in a tennis center to the quarterfinals of the US Open - CNN

It felt like a seminal moment in the career of the 24-year-old American; a culmination of hard work and raw talent that has long been heralded as the potential future of men’s tennis in the country.

Now, as Tiafoe reaches the semifinals by defeating Andrey Rublev in straight sets 7-6 7-6 6-4 on Wednesday, he has recorded the best grand slam result of his career — a feat all the more impressive given his humble beginnings.

The crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium rejoiced at the play of Tiafoe, the first black American man to reach the US Open semi-finals since Ashe in 1972. And in a match where he did not lose a service game to the world No. 11, he could not let them down .

“I feel so at home on courts like this. This court is incredible. You guys go so far behind me, you know I want to play and want to give it my best. I always find a way somehow on this court. I always try to play great tennis and I was,” he said in an on-court interview immediately after the match.

“Let’s enjoy this one. We got two more guys. We got two more.”

Tiafoe’s path into tennis was by no means traditional.

His parents met in the US after leaving Sierra Leone and had twins together, Franklin and Frances.

Their father, Constant Tiafoe, started working at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington back in 1999 and later moved into one of its vacant warehouses working around the clock.

His two boys sometimes stayed with him, sleeping on a massage table, while their mother worked night shifts as a nurse.

The unusual entrance into the sport gave Tiafoe a chance to start developing his skills and, after starting training at the facility, he didn’t look back.

“Obviously, I wasn’t the rich kid or didn’t have all the new things or whatever. But I was just living life. I was able to play tennis for free, the sport I loved,” he said. CNN Sports back in 2015, adding that he wouldn’t change his education for the world.

He was asked on Wednesday what message people should take from his story.

“I mean, anybody can do it, honestly. Obviously that’s a cliché, but I think if you’re really passionate about something… Everybody has a gift,” he said, adding that his passion and obsession is tennis.

Tiafoe and his twin brother Franklin are playing in a fundraising tournament in 2014.

Driven by his parents’ work ethic, he won the prestigious Orange Bowl — one of tennis’ most prestigious junior tournaments — at age 15, becoming the youngest boys’ singles champion in the tournament’s history.

He joined a list of previous champions that included Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

It was a sign of things to come.

Maturing on tour

Tiafoe turned pro in 2015 and began to familiarize himself with the rigors of the senior tour.

He broke into the world’s top 100 and began to assert himself at grand slams — reaching his first quarter-final at the 2019 Australian Open before losing to Nadal.

Three years on and he found himself on Wednesday in another quarter-final as the world No. 26, only this time he felt more ready to seize the opportunity.

“Honestly, when I first came on the scene, I wasn’t ready for it mentally and mature enough,” he said on court after beating Nadal. “I was able to develop and I have a great team around me.

“I’m glad I won in front of my mom, my dad, my girlfriend and my team and for them to see what I did.”

Tiafoe reached the quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open but was beaten by Nadal.

As he cements himself as a contender on the court, Tiafoe also pursues social justice off of it.

In 2022, he told CNN Sport that the lack of diversity in the sport made him feel like an “outsider”, and he vowed to continue fighting for equality while he still had the platform to do so.

He created a protest video in 2022 to raise awareness of racial injustices after the death of George Floyd sparked protests around the world.

In collaboration with a host of black players and coaches — such as Serena Williams and Coco Gauff — he posted the “Rackets down, hands up” video to his social media.

“Are we going to help everyone? Of course not, but I’m definitely going to help as many people as possible. That’s my duty,” he told CNN Sport then.

On Wednesday, his coach, Wayne Ferreira, said Tiafoe’s story is movie material, but he must first win the US Open or another grand slam event.

“You only get movies if you do well,” he said. “But his story is very unique, and it’s a great story. And he’s very humbled. He’s a very, very, very nice individual. Very great-hearted and kind. You’ve got to love him. He’s really special.”

Make no mistake, however, this is not an overnight success story. It’s a product of thousands of hours of work and a mindset that won’t take no for an answer.

However, with the weight of a nation resting on his shoulders, Tiafoe has always been focused on making his parents proud.

“With them trying so hard, I felt like I didn’t want to let them down,” he told CNN Sport in 2015. “I felt like I didn’t want to leave the opportunities for granted.”

Tiafoe will now play Carlos Alcaraz for a place in the final after the Spaniard battled through a marathon match against Jannik Sinner, with the encounter ending just before 3pm local time.

With Alcaraz expending so much energy, it presents a golden opportunity for the American to continue his run and he is sure to have the support of the home crowd.

“That stuff excites me, for sure. Seeing people screaming your name, just loving what you do. That’s amazing. That’s what it’s all about,” Tiafoe told reporters after the match.

“You know, everyone loves a Cinderella story. [I’m] just trying to make one.”

CNN’s Jacob Lev, Steve Almasy, Jill Martin, Will Edmonds and Christina Macfarlane contributed reporting.

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