Marylander Tiafoe takes Delray Beach Open, is youngest American to win ATP event since 2002
By Shandel Richardson
South Florida Sun-Sentinel|
Feb 25, 2018 | 10:52 PM
|DELRAY BEACH, Fla.
When it came time to sign up for the Delray Beach Open, Frances Tiafoe completely forgot about it.
Luckily, he received a last-minute wild- card invitation from tournament director Mark Baron. Tiafoe, of Riverdale in Prince George’s County, took full advantage of the second chance by cruising through the week and capturing the championship Sunday. He defeated Germany’s Peter Gojowczyk, 6-1, 6-4, in the final, for the first ATP Tour title of his career.
He made the decision to play in the event two weeks ago.
“As soon as the week before New York [Open], I was like, ‘I’m playing pretty good,’ ” Tiafoe said. “I was like, ‘I’d love to play Delray.”
Tiafoe, a product of the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, needed just 62 minutes to knock off Gojowczyk. He had aces on his final two points and dropped to the ground after victory was clinched. Once back on his feet, he raised both arms to the crowd in celebration. At 20, Tiafoe is the youngest American to win a title since Andy Roddick at 19 in 2002 in Houston.
“I was not expecting this, this week,” Tiafoe said. “It’s an amazing feeling. I just hope I get many more.”
The victory capped an eventful week for Tiafoe, who was coming off an appearance in the quarterfinals of the New York Open. Tiafoe, who is first wild card to win the Delray title, defeated No. 2 seed Juan Martin del Potro and No. 8 Chung Hyeon in the second round and quarterfinals.
“I was like even if I lose, it was a great week,” Tiafoe said. “I beat quality players this week. I really had nothing to lose.”
The match against Hyeon was suspended Friday night and completed Saturday afternoon. It meant Tiafoe had to compete twice in the same day but it had no effect. He cruised past rising star Denis Shapovalov, 7-5, 6-4, in the semifinals.
Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, took a different path to the tennis circuit. His father, Frances Sr., worked two jobs, including one as a maintenance man at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, just so he could afford the costly tennis lifestyle. Despite the adversity, he developed into one of the nation’s top junior players before turning pro in 2015.
“Being in a position to not only help myself but my family … it’s an unbelievable place to be,” said Tiafoe, who should move up to approximately No. 61 in today’s new rankings. “It’s bigger than tennis.”
“It’s unbelievable,” said Frances Sr., who now frequently travels the tour with his son. “I told them since they were little, work hard and you can achieve your goal. I told him whatever you put your mind to you can do it.”
The end was disappointing for Gojowczyk, who was affected by a left thigh injury he suffered in the semifinals against Steve Johnson. The pain was so severe he contemplated pulling out of the match. Last year Milos Raonic withdrew from tournament hours before the final. Instead, Gojowczyk played through it and a bandage was placed around the thigh during intermission between the first and second sets.
“You want to play in the finals,” Gojowczyk said. “You want to [play] your best tennis in the finals. Today was not my day.”