By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
As Frances Tiafoe prepares for his sixth career Citi Open, the DMV native is well aware of the pressure and expectations that come with playing in his hometown tournament.
“I just love playing at home, but it’s good and bad,” he said this week. “Obviously everyone roots for you, but everyone is wanting your time. Kind of have to manage that. But it's good to be back. Everyone wants me to do well. I just want to put on a show and go deep.”
Tiafoe has reason to be confident. Now ranked 27th in the world – two slots from his career best- Tiafoe returns home fresh off a semifinal appearance last week in Atlanta.
Prior to that, he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time in his career, before falling in five sets to David Goffin. Tiafoe’s resume from the past year also includes finals appearances in Vienna and Estoril.
“Definitely feel like I'm getting in a better rhythm in my game,” he said. “I feel like I'm getting more consistent in playing. You're seeing my name go longer in draws a lot more readily now. Sitting around my career high, I think things are going well. But, yeah, I mean, next kind of steps? Tournaments like these. I want to be on Sunday holding the trophy.”
Tiafoe reached his first 500-level final last fall in Vienna. He also reached a 250-level final in May in Estoril. But a deep run in DC, has long remained elusive for Tiafoe, who has never strung together multiple wins in Rock Creek Park.
This year’s quest begins Wednesday on Stadium Court when Tiafoe faces American wild-card Christian Eubanks in the Round-of-32. As the No.10 seed, Tiafoe received a first-round bye. Eubanks advanced with a three-set triumph over Benjamin Bonzi.
“I like the conditions here,” said Tiafoe, who beat Eubanks in their only prior meeting at the 2021 U.S. Open.
“I practice on this court, on center court, a lot. The crowd is going to be with me. I'm going to get them behind me. It's going to be a good week… I got big aspirations. But I think my game is there.”
Tiafoe said his run of success over the past 12 months can be partly attributed to an improved serve and to some strides made mentally.
Fellow DMV native Brett Haber, who is anchoring Tennis Channel’s wall-to-wall coverage of the Citi Open says he sees a more mature Tiafoe compared to years past.
“I think he’s figured out how to be more professional about his tennis and treat it as the vocation that it needs to be,” said Haber, who called Tiafoe’s ATP debut at the 2014 Citi Open.
“I think he’s a more dedicated practice player. I think he knows what he wants to get out of his career now and he knows that even though he’s immensely talented, and he is, at this level it’s not enough. So, he’s putting in the work.”
To that point, Tiafoe acknowledged that he is perhaps better equipped to handle the potential pressures and distractions that come with playing at home.
“The ‘Do Not Disturb’ is definitely in play this week,” he said at his introductory press conference Monday.
“The potential for a [win] at home is there,” Haber said, “but it’s a mixed bag- it comes with pressure, everybody knows him and everybody is wanting him to do well. But I think he’s comfortable in his own skin now. I think he knows how to process that adulation- not get too high, not get too low. I think he can absolutely make a run.”