WASHINGTON – Frances Tiafoe, who debuted with the Washington Kastles this week, isn’t thinking about career expectations, even though Kastles owner Mark Ein calls him “the future of tennis” and coach Murphy Jensen compares him to 2017 Wimbledon champion Roger Federer.
“I’m happy people think I can do that, but it’s a long way for me to go. I’m really excited for the next few years of my career,” the 19-year-old College Park, Maryland, native said.
As the 62nd ranked tennis player in the world, many tennis experts see Tiafoe as America’s next great star. He turned pro in 2015 at age 17 and competed in Wimbledon earlier this month, where he defeated 38th-ranked Robin Hasse in four sets before falling in the second round to Alexander Zverev.
Tiafoe’s first match in Washington on Tuesday night was against the New York Empire. He beat Mardy Fish in a super tie breaker to win the match, 24-23, for the Kastles.
The match lasted almost four hours, the longest in Kastles history.
Playing with the Kastles is about taking in the moment. He does not give much attention to outside career expectations.
“I take pride in it,” Tiafoe said.
“It’s not just me. There’s a group…of us that are playing some good tennis. I don’t take any pressure from it.”
Jensen credits Tiafoe’s personality as the key to his long-term success.
“He’s got the goods,” Jensen said.
“I think what’s important in what I see in the Rogers (Federer) and the Rafas (Nadal) of the world is they have that joy to play and compete. [Frances’] success is going to be based on him continuing that joy because that joy is what’s going to win him a lot of tennis matches.”
But Tiafoe combines his joy in the sport with hard work.
Before the Monday afternoon Kastles practice at the Charles E. Smith Center this week, for instance, he hit for an hour before practice began, often smiling between shots. Once practice ended, he hit the ball around again.
“He has endless amounts of energy,” Kastles spokesman Jack Deschauer said. “The first words out of Frances’ mouth are always, ‘Let’s go hit’.”
Tiafoe learned to play tennis at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, where his father worked as a maintenance man. His parents moved to the U.S. as refugees from Sierra Leone.
He also met Kastles owner Mark Ein at JTCC as a three-year-old and has maintained a relationship with him ever since.
Tiafoe playing for the Kastles was a lifelong dream for both men.
“When you do a team like this, the best thing you can hope for is a great kid who grew up in the area and then came back to play for the hometown team,” Ein said.
“We’re lucky to not only have that person but to have the person who might be the future of tennis in America if not the world.”
Tiafoe will compete in five matches with the Kastles this week, and fans can snag his bobble head on Friday night.