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“I want to put on a show” – for Frances Tiafoe winning is about energy, but also improvement
The secret to Frances Tiafoe’s success of late has a lot to do with tapping the energy of tennis fans, but there’s a lot more to the 23-year-old American’s recent rise.
The second half of the 2021 season represents a true coming of age for American Frances Tiafoe, and it would not have been possible without the fans.
Tiafoe, who has seen his fortunes against the tour’s top players change significantly since Wimbledon, when he knocked off Stefanos Tsitsipas for his first ever top-5 win, says that there’s a reason that his results have improved since summer: the pandemic has loosened its grip on the world and fans have returned to the equation. The Maryland native took that as his cue to start racking up big wins.
“With the fans coming back since Wimbledon and even pre-Wimbledon, where I was playing a couple of challengers on grass, it’s been much more fun to play the game, I feel much more at home,” Tiafoe told reporters on Saturday after taking down world No 11 Jannik Sinner in a wild encounter, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. “I want to go out there and compete, I want to put on a show.”
Tiafoe’s game, both in body and spirit, is in a very good place at the moment.
“You are going to see more of me playing great tennis, and I think it’s good for me and it’s good for fans and it’s good for the sport,” he says.
A ramped-up serve and fast hands – Tiafoe’s weapons
The crowds have Tiafoe in good spirits, but let’s not be fooled, it takes more than working the crowds to rack up quality wins the way Tiafoe has. The world No 49 has won four of his last five against the top-10 since Wimbledon – prior to that he owned a 3-21 record against the top-10.
So what else has he been doing to make himself so difficult to beat? A bit of everything.
“I’m serving probably the best I’ve served in my career, as of late,” he said on Friday after he defeated Diego Schwartzman in Vienna. “I’m volleying, I’m coming in much more readily, I think that was a focus, using my speed to be aggressive, I’m going to the net. I have great hands up there, imposing myself.
“It’s just kind of just showing up each and every week and challenging myself. Can I bring the best part of myself each and every week? And that doesn’t mean that I have to play great tennis. It’s still a big growing process for me and I take it head on.”
Another advantage – being unpredictable
After Saturday’s win over Sinner, Tiafoe also spoke of his willingness to implement a plan B into his tactics. He was down and out against Sinner, with the Italian leading by a set and 3-0, but somehow found a way to disrupt his opponents rhythm. As the saying goes, the next best thing to playing well is getting your opponent to play poorly.
“I’m playing really good tennis,” Tiafoe said. “I’m playing really smart tennis. Changing my game throughout the match. I’m really problem-solving, I’m really thinking out there, from the way I was playing in the beginning to the way I was playing in the end, I was super unpredictable – you can’t account for that. It’s tough to prep for that. I was making Jannik come up with the goods and luckily he got in his shell a little bit.”
Finally, there is the serve. Prior to this week Tiafoe was averaging 82 percent of service games won, which is two percent better than his career average and five percent better than his numbers for 2020. He’s also winning a greater percentage of first and second serve points, and he knows that every bit makes a difference.
“I’m serving smarter – higher percent of first serves, and doing more after it, if I get weak replies I’m trying to hurt the guy, so it’s doing good,” he said. “It’s been a work in progress, but yeah, nowadays, you see Jannik, and all these other guys serving so well, so efficient in there serving games, you feel you are serving the whole time, if you are not doing the same it can be really dark.”