By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
Back at his hometown tournament for his fourth career appearance, Frances Tiafoe is looking forward to an elusive Citi Open breakthrough.
“I’d love to go on a run here,” Tiafoe said Monday afternoon. “Obviously, I’m here to win the tournament, but one match at a time.”
As the No.16 seed in this year’s draw, Tiafoe had a first-round bye and will face either countryman Bradley Klahn or Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in Round 2 on Stadium Court on Tuesday (not before 4:30 p.m.).
Should the top seeds advance, Tiafoe could face No.3 seed Daniil Medvedev in the third round and either No.6 Marin Cilic or No.9 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinals on Friday. Like most competitors this week, Tiafoe will have to bring his best to navigate through a loaded draw.
“There’s a ton of great players playing this week,” he said. “But if I bring it, I’m excited to play top guys. I want to play top guys. Those matches, I’m not really worried about them, I know I’m going to play well. I’m going to be excited to play on a good court, with good fans and great energy. It’s those matches that aren’t as exciting where it’s tougher to get up for. But if I play well, I’ve got a good chance against anyone in the world.”
Tiafoe, who made his ATP main draw debut as a 16-year-old at the 2014 Citi Open, had his best D.C. result a year ago when he advanced to the third round. The Washington area native is naturally a fan favorite in these parts and looks forward to having a raucous crowd behind him.
“I’ve been waiting for this all year- to come out here and compete,” he said. “Obviously, everyone is expecting me to play big here and I’m ready to do so. I’m ready to compete and have some fun and get the crowd into it and get some wins for my city.”
Wins were plentiful early this year as Tiafoe reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open in January – his best result at a Grand Slam – before making a quarterfinal run at the Miami Masters in March. Along the way, he reached a career-high ranking of No.29 in the world.
The 21-year-old concedes, though, that he’s battled inconsistency since the spring- a stretch that included first-round defeats at the French Open and Wimbledon.
“Right now, I’m just trying to figure out how I can bring my best tennis each and every week like those weeks in Australia and Miami,” Tiafoe said. “How do I bring that each and every week? I know what I can do when I’m playing my best.”
The Washington Kastles star said he’s been investing more time watching tape and studying his game.
“I’m definitely on track,” said Tiafoe, a product of The Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park.
Tiafoe has also changed the personnel and the roles within his team, with longtime friend Zach Evendon taking over as his fulltime coach.
“We’re really close,” Tiafoe said. “We’re like brothers, pretty much. We do everything together. We spend a ton of time together. It’s bigger than a coach-player relationship. We’re pretty much family, that’s how I’d describe it.”
As for an actual family member and arguably Tiafoe’s biggest fan, twin brother Franklin has some pretty good job security.
“He’s not going anywhere,” Tiafoe said. “I don’t have a choice. He’s blood. He’s not going anywhere.”