Dubai: American Frances Tiafoe, one of the brightest prospects in men’s tennis, has called for equality in his sport.
In an interview with CNN’s Christina Macfarlane, the African-American stressed that a lack of diversity in tennis at times makes him feel like an “outsider”.
“I feel more and more as an outsider as I get success, you know … Of course, I get a ton of recognition and people love the change. I definitely feel in some ways that not everybody wants to see that success in me,” Tiafoe said.
“I feel like I’m taking something from someone that may have liked to do that, and not me. I definitely felt that because ultimately, they don’t want us in power. I truly think that’s a thing.”
Tiafoe has embraced his position both as one of the few African-American players on the ATP Tour and as a potential role model to youngsters in general. In an interview with Sports Illustrated after winning the 2018 Delray Beach Open, Tiafoe was quoted saying: “That’s one of my biggest motivations — to get more black people playing tennis. But I’m just trying to inspire everyone, doesn’t matter what race, especially younger people.”
Born on January 20, 1998, along with his twin brother Franklin, in Maryland to Constant and Alphina Tiafoe, immigrants from Sierra Leone, the brothers picked up the rudiments of the game living with their dad at the Junior Tennis Champions Centre in College Park, Maryland.
Tiafoe won a number of high-level junior titles, reaching a career-high of world No. 2 in the International Tennis Federation junior rankings. When he was just 14, Tiafoe won his first prestigious international tournament at Les Petits As in France and in December 2013, Tiafoe became the youngest player to win the Orange Bowl, one of the highest tier Grade A event on the ITF Junior Circuit.
Last week, Tiafoe collaborated with a host of black players and coaches, including Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff to post his ‘Racquets down, hands up’ video on his social media platforms.
“It was unbelievable, and I’m happy to see everybody participated. If you’re not coming together right now and trying to speak out and trying to really get good quality messages out, I don’t think there ever will be a time,” he said.
“I think if more people who have weight, who have a big platform, speak out then I think change can happen and you can be optimistic. Obviously, you see everything going on in America right now, I think it’s a good idea to come together right now and try to speak out.”
However, the 22-year-old, whose best Grand Slam performance to date is a quarter-final appearance at the 2019 Australian Open, refused to back the present stand of the protesters against police brutality. “I love the protests, I think it’s great but, at the same time, amazing cities that have been there for many, many years, to see them like that hurts me,” he said.
“I personally don’t think [looting is] the answer. I don’t condone it but at the same time, I get the frustrations. It’s a hand-in-hand thing.”
As one of very few black men in the tennis top 100, Tiafoe is convinced that he’s had to work twice as hard to reach the elite level. Currently the world No. 81, Tiafoe has credited the impact the Williams sisters have had on the game.
But, he stressed that more needs to be done to address the balance, including the resources available to reach the top of the game. “It’s so much cash just to play. If we can really focus in on that, because I mean — look at how many amazing black athletes there are. Just look at Serena and Venus — freak athletes who achieved unbelievable things,” Tiafoe said.
“Imagine if you have more black people playing. Imagine you can have more people like them, changing worlds and changing cultures.”