Meet Route 1’s Homegrown Tennis Champion

Photo of Frances Tiafoe at the 2016 Citi Open courtesy of Keith Allison

Frances Tiafoe literally grew up with the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.

His father, Frances Sr., helped build the 15-acre tennis center near the Metro station in the late 1990s, then impressed the management with his work ethic enough that they hired him to be head maintenance man.

Since his mother, Alphina, was working late nights as a nurse, Tiafoe, his twin brother and his father quietly moved into the tennis center offices with the approval of the center’s management.

The two boys soon became fixtures at the club, listening in on group classes and hopping on empty courts to hit balls when they had the opportunity.

The tennis center is known for turning out top players. Its 3,000 students over the years have included 35 national junior champions, 11 collegiate champions and 15 pros, most notably Tiafoe, who turned pro at age 17 and has earned $2 million since.

Tiafoe’s story is either one of luck or drive, depending on how you approach things. His mother won a visa lottery to move to the U.S. from Sierra Leone, and it was chance that led to him sleeping on folding tables in a tennis center as a child.

But it was hard work that let him and his family take advantage of those opportunities.

“I want to use the story now to inspire others,” he said in a recent interview. “You don’t have to be from the upper echelon to be great. If you want something in life, go get it.”

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