New York: Rising American Frances Tiafoe danced into the middle of Arthur Ashe Stadium court and soaked up the cheers from his rapidly expanding fan base after securing his spot in the US Open semi-finals on Wednesday.
In that moment it was hard not to wonder what the man that dance floor was named after would have thought of the jubilant scene.
With the win, Tiafoe became the first Black American man to reach the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows since the late Hall of Famer Ashe did so in 1972.
Former world No 1 Ashe, who grew up poor in the segregated US South, was at the forefront of breaking down barriers for Black tennis players and in 1968 became the first Black man to win the US Open, the first of three major titles.
Tiafoe, 24, is the son of immigrants from war-torn Sierra Leone who was introduced to the sport at a tennis center where his father worked as a custodian.
Annything is possible
He is gunning to be the first American man to win a Grand Slam in nearly two decades.
“Every time I win, I just want to inspire a bunch of people to know that anything is possible,” Tiafoe told reporters after his straight-set win over ninth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev.
“At the end of the day I love that because of Frances Tiafoe there is a lot of people of colour playing tennis. That’s obviously a goal for me. That’s why I’m out here trying pretty hard.”
Tiafoe said exposure to tennis is the key to diversifying the sport. “Like with anything, the more you can do something, the better you will be at it,” he said.
“I was lucky. I was playing tennis for hours and hours and around the game, soaking up the game, watching the game.
“It was my life. The only thing I really watched growing up was Tennis Channel. You end up just falling in love with it. I think that will get you to the next level.”
No doubt his inspired run to the semi-finals will attract a new generation to tune in — and maybe take up a racket — as well.