Tennis star Frances Tiafoe launches new fund leading into the Mubadala City DC Open — Andscape
It’s homecoming week for Frances Tiafoe: the Mubadala Citi DC Open, the once-a-year tour stop in the Washington area that puts a heavy demand on the tennis star’s time.
“I enjoy my time home, even though it’s a lot more wild than it used to be,” said Tiafoe, always a popular player who is even more in demand after earning his first career top-10 ranking last month. “I have family, friends, cousins here who are excited because they don’t usually get a chance to watch me play.”
A group that gets a piece of Tiafoe’s time each year is the place where he honed his tennis skills: the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. This year’s stop at the center was extra special as Tiafoe — before dozens of fans, family members and admiring kids eager to hit tennis balls with him — announced the launch of The Frances Tiafoe Fund, which will help provide access to free or low-cost tennis and educational programs for youth who might not have the financial means to participate in the sport.
“It’s about being in a position to [help] people win, people who look like me win,” said Tiafoe, the son of African immigrants from Sierra Leone. “To help people be able to go to college, that’s a win. Those are the things we’re passionate about.”
That passion comes from a sincere place for Tiafoe, who grew up at the center.
The place where he made his announcement to launch the fund, with the support of the USTA Foundation, was less than 30 yards from the training room where he lived for much of his childhood.
“I know, coming back to this place, that even when I face my toughest moments I’ve come so far,” Tiafoe said. “That’s why I come here a lot. I know that nobody that I’m competing against had my come up.”
His father, Constant Tiafoe, was the head custodian at the center and slept on one of the massage tables in the training room while the Tiafoe twin boys, Frances and Franklin, slept on the other. It was his time at the center during those formative years that helped shape Tiafoe’s future in tennis.
While his father worked, a 6-year-old Tiafoe roamed the grounds of the 15-acre complex with his racket in hand and watched the top players and coaches. Then he would go to the back wall of the facility and hit balls, mimicking all the footwork, backhands and forehands that he saw.
He accomplished while using outdated rackets and wearing tattered hand-me-down clothes, which led to daily ridicule.
“We came from nothing, just like a lot of these kids today that don’t have the opportunity to come to facilities like this,” Constant Tiafoe said during last week’s announcement. “So if we can generate some money for them to have access to all that’s happening here, the kids can have an opportunity to reach their goals.”
It’s fitting that Tiafoe made his announcement to launch his foundation just before playing in the Mubadala Citi DC Open, a tour event that’s been held in Washington since 1969. Tennis legend Arthur Ashe helped create the Citi DC Open, insisting when asked to sign on that the event be held in the heart of Washington to get “Black faces to come out and watch tennis.”
“[Ashe] was iconic not only for the game, but for what he did outside of tennis,” Tiafoe said. “That’s what I want to rock with. I love that guy for the things he did that were important and, hopefully, I can get to that point.”
While Taylor Fritz (No. 9 in the ATP rankings), Jessica Pegula (No. 4 in the WTA) and Coco Gauff (No. 7 in the WTA) are among the top names in the men’s and women’s draw, the top attraction at the Citi Open is Tiafoe. Raised in the Maryland suburb of Hyattsville, Tiafoe still spends a lot of time in the area and he takes the highest ranking of his career (10th) into this year’s tournament.
“It’s got a different ring to it, for sure,” Tiafoe said of his ranking. “It’s a crazy achievement, something I hope I’m rocking for years to come.”
While that ranking is the result of the best stretch in Tiafoe’s career, which includes his semifinal appearance in last year’s US Open, the 25-year-old hopes his deepest run in a major (he reached the quarterfinals of the 2019 Australian Open) isn’t his peak.
“If I win a slam, ain’t nobody telling me nothing,” Tiafoe said, laughing. “If I won a slam and had a terrible career after that, so be it. I did the unthinkable. That’s the pinnacle for me.”
While winning a slam would be the pinnacle, winning his first Citi Open — Tiafoe lost in the quarterfinals last year to eventual champion Nick Kyrgios — would be special.
“This tournament, outside of slams, probably means the most to me,” Tiafoe said. “Winning here would be a monumental moment not only for me, but for the people of color here in D.C.”