True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood

The rags to riches story of Frances Tiafoe is so remarkable it would be dismissed as contrived if it were a work of fiction; the child of the tennis club’s maintenance man who can’t afford tennis equipment, never mind tennis coaching, but manages to outshine the wealthy students through dedication, talent and a genuine love for the sport. Frances now stands as an inspiration to other disadvantaged youngsters who hope to break into the gilded world of professional tennis, and to all who hope to thrive despite adverse circumstances.

True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood
The Tiafoe family

Getting a foot in the door

Francis Tiafoe was born in 1998 in Florida, one of twin boys born to Sierra Leonean parents who had only recently emigrated to the US. When Francis was 2 years old, his father, Constant, took a job on a construction site in Maryland; the project was to build an elite tennis training school, the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC). Constant did such a good job that when the project was completed the owners asked him to stay on as a live-in custodian, running the site and performing necessary maintenance tasks. They offered him the use of a small office building, 120 square foot with just one window, as a residence. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother, Alphina, was working night shifts as a nurse in nearby Hyattsville, and until that point the family had been living with relatives there in a small, cramped apartment. Constant moved his twin boys, Frances and Franklin, into the makeshift office-cum-residence at his workplace, where they would sleep on massage tables five nights a week, only returning to Hyattsville when their mother wasn’t working nights. 

True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood

BY
SPYSCAPE
5
MINUTE READ
Share with Twitter
@SPYSCAPE
Share
Share to Facebook
Share to Twitter
Share with email

The rags to riches story of Frances Tiafoe is so remarkable it would be dismissed as contrived if it were a work of fiction; the child of the tennis club’s maintenance man who can’t afford tennis equipment, never mind tennis coaching, but manages to outshine the wealthy students through dedication, talent and a genuine love for the sport. Frances now stands as an inspiration to other disadvantaged youngsters who hope to break into the gilded world of professional tennis, and to all who hope to thrive despite adverse circumstances.

True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood
The Tiafoe family

Getting a foot in the door

Francis Tiafoe was born in 1998 in Florida, one of twin boys born to Sierra Leonean parents who had only recently emigrated to the US. When Francis was 2 years old, his father, Constant, took a job on a construction site in Maryland; the project was to build an elite tennis training school, the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC). Constant did such a good job that when the project was completed the owners asked him to stay on as a live-in custodian, running the site and performing necessary maintenance tasks. They offered him the use of a small office building, 120 square foot with just one window, as a residence. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother, Alphina, was working night shifts as a nurse in nearby Hyattsville, and until that point the family had been living with relatives there in a small, cramped apartment. Constant moved his twin boys, Frances and Franklin, into the makeshift office-cum-residence at his workplace, where they would sleep on massage tables five nights a week, only returning to Hyattsville when their mother wasn’t working nights. 

Article Ad
Article Ad
Article Ad

Consequently, Frances and Franklin were both exposed to tennis from a very early age. Franklin did not seem particularly interested in the sport that surrounded him, but even as a four-year old Frances was fascinated by tennis, and took every opportunity he could to learn and play the game. Initially, those opportunities were extremely limited; he had no racquet and had to borrow equipment or, more often, just pick up discarded racquets he found lying around. He also would only have access to the courts outside of the center’s opening hours, and would instead observe the lessons of the fee-paying students, and then attempt to recreate their training drills while hitting a ball against a wall.  

A Superhero needs a mentor

Nobody seemed to object to Frances’s attempts to teach himself to play. His father was a popular figure in the Center, and Frances wasn’t causing any harm, but also nobody attempted to encourage his ambitions. The fees paid by students at the JTCC were more than Constant made in a year, so it wasn’t until a new coach arrived at the Center in 2006 that Frances received any formal training. The coach was Mikhail Kouznetsov, and when he arrived at JTCC he was intent on finding a young player to make into a special coaching project. When he saw the eight year old Frances practicing by himself, he knew that he’d found it. 

True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood
Frances with Mikhail Kousnetzov

Kouznetsov became a second father to Frances, turning up to work early to make sure the twins got a proper sporting breakfast, then taking Frances out on the court to train before the fee-paying students turned up. Once the day's paid work was done, Kouznetsov would once again turn to his protégé, training with Frances until the light dimmed. It has since been estimated that Frances received almost $400,000 worth of free tuition during his time at the Center, but none of that effort was wasted; it soon became apparent that the young prodigy wasn’t just the best pupil in the school, but potentially the best in the US, and Kouznetsov did everything he could to nurture this talent, even paying Frances’s tournament entry fees and driving him to competitions. 

From Hyattsville to Flushing Meadows

Unfortunately Constant decided to move to a new job in 2011, and when it didn’t work out as planned he and the boys had to move back to the Hyattsville apartment permanently. By this stage Franklin was winning national tournaments, so the JTCC promoted him from the unofficial skunkworks training roster and continued to provide training and facilities for free, but he was still sharing a cramped room with his brother and his ever-increasing trophy cabinet. This did not seem to hold him back, and aged just 15 he became the youngest ever winner of the prestigious international juniors tournament, the Orange Bowl, besting the performances of notable former winners such as John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and even Roger Federer. 

True Superhero Frances Tiafoe’s Amazing Childhood

He turned pro in 2015, qualifying for the French and US Open in his first year on tour,  and even briefly signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation sports agency as their first ever tennis player, before switching to the more traditional CAA agency. He made slow, steady progress through the ATP rankings for several years, with early career highlights including his first ATP tour title in 2018 and an Australian Open quarter final (where he lost to Rafael Nadal) in 2019, and Frances attributes this slow start to his professional career to his being distracted by the attention and hype surrounding him. As the media glare has gradually died down, Tiafoe’s results have steadily ticked upwards, leading to a barnstorming run to the 2022 US Open semifinals featuring a thrilling revenge victory over his Australian Open conqueror, Rafael Nadal. Frances lost the semi final in five sets, but is showing every sign of taking his game to the next level, something that he wants to do not just for himself, but also for his parents who still struggle to juggle watching their son compete with their own workplace commitments, and also for the watching fans who see Frances as an inspiration. As he told reporters at Flushing Meadows in 2022: “Every time I win, I just want to inspire a bunch of people to just know that you can -- I mean, anything is possible. For me to do this and talk about how I feel about being in the US Open from my come-up is crazy. At the end of the day I love that because of Frances Tiafoe there are a lot of people of color playing tennis. That's obviously a goal for me. That's why I'm out here trying pretty hard.” Nobody can doubt his commitment, and as his superheroic career continues, it seems certain that he’ll continue to inspire many more people of color and from disadvantaged backgrounds to take to the courts. 

Read mORE

RELATED aRTICLES

Gadgets & Gifts

Put your spy skills to work with these fabulous choices from secret notepads & invisible inks to Hacker hoodies & high-tech handbags. We also have an exceptional range of rare spy books, including many signed first editions.

Shop Now

Your Spy SKILLS

We all have valuable spy skills - your mission is to discover yours. See if you have what it takes to be a secret agent, with our authentic spy skills evaluation* developed by a former Head of Training at British Intelligence. It's FREE so share & compare with friends now!

dISCOVER Your Spy SKILLS

* Find more information about the scientific methods behind the evaluation here.