By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Frances Tiafoe has great things in his future as one of the most promising players of the United States’ next generation.
On Sunday afternoon at the Winston-Salem Open, the future came into focus as the 17-year-old from College Park, Maryland, made it through qualifying to earn a spot in the 48-player Main Draw.
Tiafoe beat Ryan Harrison 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the third round of qualifying, and advanced to a first-round match on Monday against James Duckworth.
It will be Tiafoe’s fourth appearance in an ATP World Tour event and the first in which he played his way into the Main Draw. Earlier this year he received wildcards into Roland Garros and Atlanta, and made the field in Nice as a lucky loser.
Tiafoe, working his way up the rankings at No. 271, had knocked off No. 86 Radu Albot as one of his wins in the first two rounds on Saturday.
“It feels good,” Tiafoe said. “It definitely feels better when you have to win all three matches. Both of my wins Saturday were very good wins and Ryan Harrison is a very good player. The guy I beat last night is Top 100, the highest-ranked player I have beaten. So I’ve really picked up my game this summer and I’m happy to be playing well going into the US Open.”
Tiafoe has received a wildcard into next week’s US Open, so these are exciting times indeed.
“I made the Main Draw here by working my way in, and next week a Grand Slam is always fun, so it’s definitely a great experience and I’m really excited for it,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to play in the US Open, especially being American, and I’m really happy to have this opportunity.”
Tiafoe, who reached No. 2 in the world junior rankings and turned pro earlier this year, moved to Boca Raton, Florida, to be part of the USTA player development program in May. This year he has won a Futures event in Bakersfield and reached the finals in a Challenger event in Tallahassee in addition to his ATP World Tour appearances.
Against Harrison Sunday, Tiafoe was up against a player he has looked up to as a junior. That and the notion of playing on Stadium Court was a bit imposing at first, and it showed in the first set. But he regrouped and settled down, and finally started playing his game.
“I was nervous at the start,” Tiafoe said. “It was tough. I was on the outer courts yesterday and today you have people in the crowd and it’s a little different. I had to get used to playing on the court. But second set I raised my intensity and was hitting harder with bigger margins and started playing to win.”
A win over Duckworth on Monday would give him valuable points as he aims to continue climbing up the rankings.
“Hopefully by the end of the year I can be Top 200,” he said. “I’m 270 right now, so if I got Top 200 I could start next year in Australia. I would love to be in the Top 100 midway through next year. That would be great. I think I’m definitely playing Top 100 tennis right now, so I think it’s very possible.”
Others who advanced through qualifying with wins on Sunday were World No. 39 Martin Klizan, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Marco Cecchinato. Klizan beat Bjorn Fratangelo 7-6 (4), 6-3; Herbert beat Sekou Bangoura 6-4, 6-3; and Cecchinato beat Wil Spencer 7-5, 6-4.