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“You are going to see more of me playing great tennis” – maturity keying big-match confidence for surging Frances Tiafoe

Frances Tiafoe has been coming into his own as a big-match player in 2021. After defeating multiple top-20 players in the same week for the first time he is eyeing bigger things this week in Vienna.

Frances Tiafoe of the United States reacts Sep 1, 2021; Flushing, NY, USA; Frances Tiafoe of the United States reacts in the third set of a match against Guido Pella of Argentina (not pictured) on day three of the 2021 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

It has been a process. And at times for 23-year-old American Frances Tiafoe that process has been trying. The ebbs and flows of finding oneself, steps at a time, and sometimes slipping down a rung on the ladder of success. Tiafoe, who turned pro after a stellar junior career in 2015, has been through a lot.

And in the second half of the 2021 season he is parlaying the experience gained into a string of perspective-changing victories against top-flight talent. He has won four of five matches against top-10 players since Wimbledon, and this week in Vienna he has earned multiple wins against top-20 players in the same event for the first time.

From process comes progress. At 23 Tiafoe still has plenty of time to grow his game, and the wisdom he’s gained on the tour will only help him push further.

After Australia Open in 2019: Complacency

Kicking off the 2019 season by reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals took Tiafoe to a career-high ranking of 29 soon after. Little did Tiafoe know that the ranking would be his peak for quite some time. As it turns out there was more to learn.

“I got comfortable, you are making a lot of money, your family is good,” Tiafoe said of his mindset after reaching his first major quarter-final. “You came from a certain circumstance, everyone is kind of good, you are sky-high, you feel like life is at your fingertips.” 

The American readily admits that didn’t push himself as much as he needed to during that period.

“You take your foot off the gas, as far as I didn’t keep getting better or improve where I needed to be at, and I think I needed to go through that process,” Tiafoe says. “The year was bumpy, then the pandemic hit, and now it has been an uphill battle to get where I am, but I’m happy that I am going through what I went through. I think I needed that. It shaped me as a person completely now.”

Consistency is the challenge

Since Wimbledon many have taken note of the fact that Tiafoe has been able to rack up big wins against the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov, but he hasn’t been able to turn those victories into deep runs. It took him nearly ten months to reach his first tour-level semi-final of the season and his ATP title count still stands at one.

Tiafoe is aware of the challenge he faces. Big wins are eye-opening and a clear indicator of how much upside their is for the world No 49, but it’s the steady week-in, week-out success on tour that the American longs to tap into. Friday’s victory over Diego Schwartzman, one day after toppling top-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas, is proof that he’s figuring it out.

“It wasn’t a question of can I beat these guys? It was: can I do it day in and day out?” he said on Friday. “I’ve made changes, I’ve sacrificed things. I’m growing up. Life happened. I’m going to be 24 (next January) so yeah, I’m happy and I’m ready to go for it tomorrow again.” 

Asked if his success in 2021 was more about maturity and mentality than any techniques or tactics employed on the tennis court, Tiafoe wholeheartedly agreed – with a caveat.

“100 percent,” he said. “And still being you. You don’t have to change who you are to be successful, and I think I was just tightening up the screws. Hiring [coach Wayne Ferreira] was big, and just being me but [telling myself] – Let’s lock in a little bit. Let’s take this career seriously, these next six, seven years and try to get the most out of myself. I know what I can do, I don’t think anyone has ever doubted that, but it’s you know: What does Frances Tiafoe look like on a day-to-day basis?” 

As he prepares to face Jannik Sinner in the semi-finals on Saturday at Vienna, Tiafoe is confident that his latest surge is the beginning of something even bigger.

“It’s still a big growing process for me and I take it head on.”

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