Tennis Prose



Biofile Frances Tiafoe Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: ATP #26.

DOB: January 20, 1998 In: Hyattsville, MD

Ht: 6-2 Wt: 175

First Tennis Memory: “Being a little kid, playing, hitting on the wall at College Park, where I grew up.”

Tennis Inspirations: “Guys that were playing at the club like Denis Kudla who was great in their years when they were young, Junior Ore, Mitchell Frank. They were big role models for me and I still look up to them.”

Last Book Read: “Of Mice And Men (John Steinbeck).”

First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: “Juan Martin Del Potro at the Legg Mason, it used to be called (now Citi Open). I got his autograph and I snuck into the lounge and I was talking to him a little bit. And I was young. I just said Hi and he said Hi back. That was enough for me at that time [smiles]. I was ten.”

Greatest Sports Moment (so far): “Winning my first pro title. That was probably the best feeling I ever had. In Bakersfield, CA. 15K.”

Most Painful Moment: “Oh…US Open junior, having two match points and losing in the semis. That was a heartbreaker. I thought I could take a title for America. Fell short. But still a great week.”

Favorite Tournaments: “Citi Open and US Open.”

Strangest Match: “Cramping. I’ve only cramped twice but both times it was pretty bad [smiles].”

Embarrassing Tennis Memory: “I threw my racquet and got a point penalty on match point when I was fifteen at the Easter Bowl. And I lost to a kid who was not great. That was probably the most embarrassing.”

Funniest Player Encountered: “Gael Monfils at the US Open is probably one of the funniest players on the Tour.”

Fiercest Competitors Encountered: “Rafael Nadal. We hit for three days at Roland Garros. And he didn’t crack a smile once in those three days.”

Favorite Sport Outside Tennis: “Basketball.”

Three Athletes You Like To Watch & Follow: “LeBron James. Kevin Durant. And RG III.”

Why Do You Love Playing Tennis: “Because I think I have a good shot at being great. And this is a sport I love. I loved playing this at a young age. And I can keep playing and learning and getting better.”

People Qualities Most Admired: “People that are humorous. I’m pretty funny myself and I like to have fun. Also, nice people.”

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  • Dan Markowitz · May 12, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Just talking to Vince and the first thing he brought up was Tiafoe and how well he’s doing. He said the first thing you need to be a successful pro is the game and then you need the person. Unless you have both, you can’t make it. He said a guy like Safin practiced really hard, but he just fell apart at some big times. But you have to have the persistence and fortitude as a person to make it.

    Vince also said he’d start players at an early age playing on grass. He thinks this whole movement to have young players play on clay to start is wrong because they develop bad fundamentals with too big backswings and wristy shots. He said it’s like building a house and you have to get the right foundation set which you get playing on grass because you have to quick short back swings and learn how to hit through the ball.

    He said that Laver was the perfect example of a guy who was the first player to hit topspin on his backhand and get the torque on his forehand drive, but his game was so solid because of the Aussie development–in those days–on grass.

    Vince also said guys like Kozlov having coaches with the USTA usually doesn’t work. It does sometimes–and he cited Lindsay Davenport working with Lynne Rolley–but he said often when you get coaching for free, it’s not as good as getting coaching that you’re overpaying for because you value it more.

  • dan markowitz · May 13, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    It’s interesting that both Tiafoe and Kyrgios say the reason they play foremost is because they’re good at the sport–Tiafoe takes it farther saying he plays tennis because he thinks he can be great–not that they love playing the game. I’m sure it’s a combination of both, but it’s kind of putting the horse in front of the cart.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 13, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    I love that answer by Tiafoe, classic quote, I have a chance to be great. I really enjoyed just watching him practice, he looks like a pro boxer out there, very strong upright, technical, explosive. Can envision him dancing and moving and throwing combos, this kid is something special IMO. We’ll soon see.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 15, 2015 at 5:20 am

    A not-too handsome side of Tiafoe was exposed by the New York Times article,, that stated Tiafoe had left his coach of the last 10 years to now be coached by Jose Higueras and Nicholas Todero of the USTA.

    This coach, a Russian guy, who met Tiafoe when he was 8 at the Maryland Regional USTA center, did so much to develop Tiafoe’s game, and Tiafoe acknowledged that, but when Frances got the chance to jump to the USTA coaches, he did.

    It’s sad, the coach said, “They stole my boy.” Firstly, Higueras hasn’t coached a great player since like Michael Chang or Courier. And I’ve never heard of Todero as being a great coach. So I don’t know why Tiafoe wouldn’t stick with his old coach who developed his game. Secondly, Higueras comes in saying Tiafoe still has a lot to learn and not to get too excited, and sometimes I think that’s not a good tack to take. Sometimes it’s great for a coach to tell his young player, “You’re great, and you can beat the pants off these guys on the tour as long as you keep working hard.”

    We’ll see how Tiafoe fares now with Higueras as his coach.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 15, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Shame for Mischa, he was just with Tiafoe at the Sarasota Challenger. You could tell working with Tiafoe meant a lot to him. He loves the kid. Funny how these same USTA recycled coaches Higueras and Todero keep getting this big players, big jobs but aren’t delivering. Feel bad for Kouznetsov, he got left empty-handed at the height of Tiafoe’s success too. They could have waited for a slump or something. Higueras and Todero have big pressure on them to keep the Tiafoe train rolling in the right direction.

  • Dan Markowitz · May 15, 2015 at 8:43 am

    The big question is why didn’t Tiafoe do a James Blake and keep his coach who he was making so much progress with? Or why didn’t the USTA have a little more sensitivity and keep Kouznetsov on as a co-coach and bring Higueras in? Tiafoe just doesn’t come off looking good here. It’s like when they asked Rafa last week if he might drop his Uncle Toni as coach, and Rafa said basically that family’s more important than his tennis and he’s to blame, not the coach, for his recent downturn.

    So you’ve got Tiafoe being coached by Higueras and Kozlov by Brad Stine, both coaches who had success with players back in the 90’s. I’m kind of rooting for Donaldson now who’s being coached by Taylor Dent, an independent coach, to move ahead of his peers.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 15, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Agree Dan, not liking this move of dispatching Kouznetsov, this guy was always there, he was there in Sarasota, he was there with Tiafoe at Citi Open last year, they should have kept him on as part of the team. Higueras better get results with Tiafoe or he deserves to be questioned and or heavily criticized. What has Higueras done for any player lately??? What has Berger done? Sock is doing it with his longtime junior coach. Berger just sits in the box. Blake stayed with Brian Barker and that worked out just fine. One can understand why USTA is so eager to get credit for young player’s success.

  • Bryan · May 17, 2015 at 11:12 pm

    Vultures have been circling Tiafo hard the last year or so. No surprise he ditched his coach as he turned pro. Maybe he’s concerned he won’t get to the next level otherwise.

    BTW is he really 6′-2″ in your view Scoop? He looks more like 6-0 or so. You stood next to him before but I haven’t.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 18, 2015 at 8:32 am

    That’s a good question Bryan, he could be 6-0 as you say. We stood up pretty much head to head when we did this Biofile in Sarasota, he didn’t tower over me (five-ten), it could be an exaggerated height.

  • Bryan · May 18, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    Thanks. That’s what I thought. They’re listing Tiafo at 6-2 just like the NBA lists centers at 7-0 when they’re 6-10 at best.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 18, 2015 at 10:25 pm

    Bryan, just not sure. He does have a big presence. He stands tall on the court. He could be 6-2. Talking with him, I didn’t pay attention to his height, he was considerably taller than my five ten. We’ll be able to tell when he’s on court at FO, we will compare his height to the opponent.



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