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Frances Tiafoe Discusses the American Dream, His Ambition, and ‘DMV Mentality’

Twenty-five-year-old U.S. tennis star Frances Tiafoe often describes his life as a movie. The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, he spent much of his childhood sleeping on hard folding tables at the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) in College Park, Maryland, a 12-minute train ride from Washington, D.C.

His father worked as a janitor at the JTCC, where Frances first learned to play tennis. From those humble beginnings, Tiafoe has emerged as one of the top tennis players in the world. After making his Olympic debut two years ago, he reached his first major semifinal at the 2022 US Open and cracked the top 10 of the ATP rankings for the first time in June 2023.

NBC Sports caught up with Tiafoe this week after his second-round win at his hometown tournament, the Mubadala Citi DC Open in Washington, D.C. Basketball superstar Kevin Durant, another D.C. native, came onto the court to congratulate Tiafoe after the win. (Tiafoe’s week ended in the quarterfinals when he lost to eventual tournament winner Daniel Evans).

*This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity

What’s it like playing here in D.C. compared to your typical ATP Tour stops?

Tiafoe: Nothing beats it. It was a crazy atmosphere and a crazy match. To have those moments is incredible. I’m super humbled by it. I mean, wow, what a night. But it goes to show what the work does... A guy like Kevin Durant isn’t going to come watch any old tennis match. For him to come out and watch today is incredible and it means a lot to me.

What kind of ties do you still have to this community and this city?

Tiafoe: I’m always here, man. All my off time is here. I go to all the local restaurants and all the bougie restaurants. I’m really plugged in with the Wizards. Gaff [Wizards Center Daniel Gafford] is my guy. To see him come through, I didn’t even know he was coming today. I’m tapped into the Mystics. I go to Caps games. [Wizards, Mystics, and Capitals owner] Ted Leonsis, I’m very, very tied in. From every department in my life too, this is home. I’ve got cousins, family, friends, loved ones. This is genuinely one of the best cities in the world. Call me biased or whatever, sure. But this is everything and this tournament means the world to me.

You’ve talked about the “DMV mentality” [DC-Maryland-Virginia]. What does that mean to you?

Tiafoe: It’s just guys getting out the mud. We’re against all odds here in the DMV. But it seems like, as KD [Kevin Durant] says, there’s something in the water. Obviously, some of the best athletes in the world are from here. KD, Quinn Cook, Jeff Green, Victor Oladipo. Great athletes, actors, actresses, you name it, come from the DMV. So it’s a lifestyle.

You’ve definitely embodied that too, coming from the background that you did. Can you talk about what it was like at the beginning, and what it means now to be a top-ten player?

Tiafoe: What a journey, man. Who would have ever thought a guy like me would be top ten in the world? It shows a kid having a chance and an opportunity and taking this seriously, what he can do. The sky’s the limit, man. Don’t let people project their fears on you. The American dream, anything can really get done. If you do it with grace, do it with the right humbleness, treat people the right way, be a good person, work hard, the world is your oyster. It’s a matter of being a little lucky and being at the right place the right time, but when the opportunity comes your way, grabbing it with two hands.

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