LONDON — Frances Tiafoe remembers promising to his parents before he was even a teenager that tennis would change their lives.
As his talent for the sport became obvious at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park where his father was a maintenance worker — and lived with his family in an office that served as their apartment — Tiafoe vowed he would use his abilities to better their circumstances.
“I told them when I was about 11, 12 years old, this is what it was going to be,” Tiafoe said Tuesday, sitting in an interview room at the All England Club after a first-round win at Wimbledon. “You guys just have to sit back and wait for it.”
Wait no longer. The now 20-year-old Tiafoe of Riverdale in Prince George’s County is on the verge of breaking into the top 50 in the rankings. He already has reached a level where his income from the sport has taken his parents a long way from the struggles they faced after arriving in the United States as immigrants from Sierra Leone.
“I've still got a long way to go,” Tiafoe said. “But I said, ‘Look, I'm going to change everybody's life, I'm going to buy you all a house. I'm going to do X, Y, and Z, and everybody's going to live nice at the end of my career and no one is going to have to worry about anything.’ ”
If he keeps playing the way he did against Fernando Verdasco — a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist seeded 30th — they won't have to worry at all.
Tiafoe beat Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 after outplaying the Spaniard on the key points. The American saved 13 of the 15 break points he faced while converting two of the only four he had himself.
“I played to win when it was time to step up,” he said.
Tiafoe has been stepping up all his life. Even though his parents weren't as sure as he was that tennis was the answer.
“My dad always believed me,” Tiafoe said. “My mom, she wanted me to go to college, [and said] you can do whatever you want after that. I said, it's not going to go down like that. There was one plan and that was it. There was no Plan B because that just distracts you from Plan A. I had a vision, and I wanted it every day. I dream chased every day. There was always a purpose to what I was doing on the court, because it's not about me at the end of the day. Because my parents, they sacrificed for me and my brother, and I had to do it for them.”
His mom, Alphina, didn't seem unhappy about her son's career choice as she watched him play on Court 11 on Tuesday.
“That's my little boy,” she shouted as he wrapped up the victory.