Frances Tiafoe Is Ready For His Major

frances tiafoe for evian
Frances Tiafoe Is Ready For His MajorJulian Finney - evian

"You know, I’m not going to sugarcoat it," Frances Tiafoe tells me just a few days before his first match in this year's Australian Open. "Straight up. I want to do this." This, according to the American tennis pro, is his dream of winning his first major championship. "I want to do it not just for me, but for my family, my partners, and for all the people who think they don’t have the chance," he says. "I’m not going to lie to you and make it sound fly. It’s just one goal."

The 25-year-old has already achieved some massive victories. He defeated tennis legend Rafael Nadal in a stunning upset at the 2022 U.S. Open. Then, he battled for five hours with eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in an explosive semifinal that signaled the arrival of the sport's next generation of stars. Tiafoe will have another career-changing opportunity on January 14 at the Australian Open, which he'll enter as one the top 20 men’s tennis players in the world.

That success has earned the young American quite some fame. Last year, he appeared on Netflix’s Break Point, a documentary series that dives behind the scenes of the stressful and competitive nature of the sport. Fans learned more about his background throughout the series; after escaping a civil war in Sierra Leone, Tiafoe's parents worked night and day in the U.S. to support their son’s athletic aspirations. “It’s great that people in totally different demographics are now following the game," he says. "Being someone of color, it definitely means a lot."

Now, Tiafoe is the new Global Brand Ambassador for evian. He’s embracing a new "Live Young" mindset, as he calls it, stressing that he’s ready to take that next leap forward. "I think the 'up-and-comer' thing is over for me," he boldly declares. "I’m in a stage in my career where I want to be one of the top guys in the game."

Below, Tiafoe shares more about his recent successes, facing his greatest rivals, and his preparation for another year of competition.

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"You give it your best and just be you," Tiafoe says. "I love to inspire people with my story and how I play the game."Jonathan DiMaggio - Getty Images

ESQUIRE: Frances, the new season of Break Point will show your journey throughout last year's major tournaments. What do you hope people take away from seeing your 2023 season?

TIAFOE: Slow and steady. If you do things the right way, put in the work, good things will happen. There’s ebbs and flows with everything. Trials and tribulations. But I think a lot of people will like seeing the progression. That run [in 2022] was obviously my big breakout moment. So, it was pretty cool that it got to be shown [in Season One].

You just got to Melbourne for the Australian Open. You played tournament in Hong Kong just a few days ago. How does your body handle that travel schedule?

It’s definitely tough, brother. First couple of days I’m seeing stars. But it’s the name of the game. Everybody’s got to go through it. You never know when you’re getting in, or if you’ll be late. You’re just living in hotels every week, different time zones. But you still have to perform at a high level.

When you’re coming off a big match—like that five-hour, five-setter against Carlos Alcaraz at the 2022 U.S. Open—how long are you stewing and analyzing your play before you’re jumping into the next one?

I was dying. I was stewing both before and after. There was so much hype in the match. I was very nervous, but I was also excited. It was very mixed emotions. Not only New York and my family, but every step I took, every time I swung the racket, I felt like the whole country was tapped in and wanted to see me do the damn thing. Hopefully, next time, I’ll get it done.

You were in the doubles match against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the 2023 Laver Cup when it was Federer’s last match before his retirement. Did you exchange any words with the two of them after the game?

[Laughs.] You know, for a guy to have that kind of love and reception leaving the game, it really opened my eyes a lot. You ask yourself, How’s the world going to take you when you’re done? Roger’s not only a tennis icon, but he’s a sports icon. You tip your hat to a guy like that every day. He’s one of one. It was a monumental moment, and I was happy to share the net that day. The result of the match is irrelevant, but it was all love. Lots of tears. Lots of emotions. He left a mark on this game that I don’t think anyone’s gonna be able to beat. I told him, “Thank you. Thank you for 20-plus years of greatness, for being who you are, for taking the game to another level.” We’ve always got along really well. It was just dope being able to share the court. If you say you’re not a fan of one of those two, you’re lying.

I feel like you’re in the phase of your career—higher up in the draw as a top-20 player—where you have more attention on you than before. What does it mean to you, as a former kid in the stands, that you're the player they aspire to be now?

It’s a great place to be. I never thought I’d be this guy. It’s crazy. A kid who flew out from wherever, coming on their parents’ hard-earned money. You give it your best and just be you. I love to inspire people with my story and how I play the game.

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"If you do things the right way, put in the work, good things will happen," Tiafoe says.Sarah Stier - Getty Images

Longer than we’ve both been alive, evian has been a major sponsor at the U.S. Open. What does it mean to you to be named their new Global Brand Ambassador?

It’s insane. I’m super stoked. It’s just a well-known, well-respected brand. I was truly honored. They’ve had so many great athletes—Maria Sharapova, Stanislas Wawrinka. Hopefully I have some careers like them. I’m truly blessed.

There’s a lot of these tricks that athletes use to stay motivated on the tour—keeping a rival in mind or surrounding yourself with a good support system. When you’re warming up, is there an opponent you’re envisioning on the other side of the net?

Carlos. Novak. Sinner… all the best guys in the world. Every time I’m in the gym, or going for a run, doing an extra set, I’m trying to beat those guys. You have to. To be the best, you got to beat the best.

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