However, the crowd found him. Passers-by stopped to thank him and congratulate him. Mayor Greenbelt shook his hand. It was more interest than Francis Tiafoe Sr. wanted or expected to get when he came to the United States from Sierra Leone many years ago. He proudly explained that he was not upset.
“Francis represents a lot of things right now,” said Tiafoe Sr. “He’s standing where he came from. He’s standing in College Park. He’s representing America.”
In front of the crowd gathered in College Park, Tiafoe stood up for Prince George. He gave them more reason than ever to cheer on a historic run to the US Open semi-finals, becoming the first American man to do so since 2006. They came together to deliver a hero’s welcome to the county’s newest superstar as Tiafoe returned to his grown tennis club. Until Friday afternoon.
A group of tennis players and fans, some newly converted after the US Open’s star-studded Tiafoe jump, strolled around the JTCC patio to wait for autographs and photos of what county leaders declared “Francis Tiafoe Day.” The bright green and blue of the Sierra Leone flag faded from the stands as the crowd gathered in the club’s central pitch to hear Tiafoe speak. When he took the microphone, he chanted the three syllables just a week ago An echo echoed through Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York erupted again: “Ti – Ah – Foe!”
He said, “It takes a village.” “Without this place, you guys probably wouldn’t know who Frances Tiafoe is.”
The house in Prince George, to Tiafoe, is still Kenilworth Street, the leafy Hyatsville Street where he grew up. His whole world extended only to Hyatsville and College Park; Baseball and mini basketball games across the Anacostia River in Riverdale Park, and spent nights with his dad at JTCC, where Tiafoe Sr. lived.
Across the county, Tiafoe knows his profile is much bigger now.
“It really hits the house,” Tiafoe said in an interview with The Washington Post. Many people in Prince George’s County grew up in low-income areas. To do something cool and change the whole way society thinks… I think we can do a lot of special things here. “
In line for autographs, 9-year-old Ethan Masai spoke enthusiastically with his father, Phillip, about the Tiafoe game. He is an inspiration to the Masai, who takes lessons with Misha Kuznetsov, a former Tiafo coach.
Masai and his father took care of Tiafu’s kicks and shots from the net – “that’s what coach Misha told me to do,” he said.
“I’m not interested in tennis,” said Aina Horton, who was also in the class. “But as soon as I heard we had a local from Prince George’s County, who’s also from Sierra Leone, it got me really excited.”
Now a fan of Tiafoe and tennis, Horton said (though she still sticks to the rules, she immediately reached out to Tiafoe.
humble beginnings, [his] “The parents came here as immigrants, and they’ve been so focused and dedicated to tennis since he was three…that says a lot,” Horton said.
Tiafoe admitted he was soft-spoken on Friday and still wrestled, he admitted, with the two surreal weeks he’s been through. As reported by reporters, standing at the changing of the guard in the tennis world after the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer; The tennis scene is thirsty for a new champion. At the US Open, he seemed to carry a sense of responsibility – “I feel like I let you down,” he told the New York crowd after his agonizing semi-final loss.
Back home, he vowed to continue the struggle – on the field and for Prince George.
“I think a lot of people overlook this area,” Tiafoe said. “a lot of people [here] I feel like they have something to prove.”
Everyone from athletes to members of Congress was called in to support him in New York — “that’s the best thing about the DMV,” Tiafoe said, “we really lag behind each other” — and it was surreal to think he could set an example for the kids in the county, like fellow Prince Georgian Kevin Durant for him.
After helping to elevate his son to the top of American tennis, Tiafoe Sr. wants to turn his attention to helping young Prince George as well. He said he’s thinking of going out and collecting donations. But not before having fun today. On the JTCC’s back porch, he exhaled.
“Do you see that window there?” he said, pointing along the brick wall of the club. “I lived in that room for 16 years.“
“I have not worked in vain,” he said.