The expression of frustration often uttered by one of my favorite TV moms, Florida Evans (Esther Rolle, “Good Times”), “damn, damn, damn,” reflected how I felt as this year’s Labor Day weekend came to a close.
Two of my “sands” – that is my line brothers, Cyril Mayes and Tony Jones, with whom I crossed the burning sands of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., on April 7, 1979 at U of M (yes, I remember the date and no, that’s not Maryland, it’s MICHIGAN), asked me to join them at the U.S. Open in New York City.
But I declined the offer, graciously, albeit with a plethora of pretty weak excuses. I would have gone. I could have gone. I should have gone.
Little did I know that I was turning down the opportunity to witness not one but two moments in tennis history that fans, especially African Americans like me, will likely never forget.
Of course, the hype has been about the incomparable Serena Williams potentially playing her final professional tennis match in a third-round loss on Friday, Sept. 2.
Social media still hasn’t finished talking about Williams and her phenomenal career.
However, on Tuesday, Sept. 6, as one tennis legend walked off into the sunset, another young brother from Hyattsville, Maryland, Frances Tiafoe, 24, achieved one of the most significant victories in his career.
Tiafoe, hailed as one of the so-called “next generation” within the roster of American men on the tennis circuit, held off the perennial Spanish champion, Rafael Nadal, in a nail-biting, four-set match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, eliminating one of the sport’s best from a Grand Slam tournament.
People have been talking about Tiafoe since his teen years, describing him as a rising star and one to watch. But American men, who haven’t won a Grand Slam singles title in 19 years, have struggled. Tiafoe, along with several of his fellow 20-something colleagues, have made it into the top 30 this year but still haven’t found a way to break the ceiling and make it to the next level.
Tiafoe appears to be well on his way. The last time he flirted with destiny was in 2019 when he, on his 21st birthday, pulled off the upset and made it into the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
This time, the quick and nimble, 6-foot-2 power hitter, built like an NFL defensive back, has raised his game, armed with a blistering serve. And he’s doing it on American soil.
“This is crazy man, this is crazy,” Tiafoe said several hours after his stunning victory.
Tiafoe’s parents left their home in Sierra Leone in the 1990s to escape a civil war, establishing themselves just outside of the District. His father has been an integral force at a public tennis center in College Park, Maryland, where Frances and his twin brother first learned the game.
Tiafoe initially continued with tennis as a means of securing his college education. But before long, he couldn’t get enough. And now, all of his hard work is paying off in spades.
“My parents have seen me play and beat guys for years but to beat one of those Mt. Rushmore guys – yeah, it’s something we’ll all remember for the rest of our lives,” Tiafoe told a reporter on the morning after his stunning victory.
There’s no perfect country on our planet. And despite the claims of America being “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we know such phrases still remain more hyperbole than reality.
Sometimes, it’s differences of race, or religion, or sexual preference or gender or economics or education that are used to hold people back from work toward and realizing their dreams.
But not this time. Tiafoe has put in the work and with a strong support staff and even stronger family unit, he’s remained resolute in his quest – undeterred by the naysayers.
Move over, LeBron James, there’s a new kid on the block – or rather, on the court.
And his name is Frances Tiafoe.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Frances Tiafoe defeated No. 9 seed Andrey Rublev 7-6 (3), 7-6 (0), 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, Sept. 7, becoming the first American man to reach the Open semifinals since 2006 and the first Black American man to do so since Arthur Ashe in 1972.