Now Tiafoe must figure out how to regulate two seemingly contradictory forces within his personality. There is the laid back, easygoing jokester with an electric smile, and the intense competitor who desperately wants to fulfill the potential that he and everyone around him knows he has.
“Frances has always had his way,” said Tommy Paul, who has trained and competed with Tiafoe since they were among the country’s top 9-year-olds. “He’s calm somewhere, but he’s Frances. It’s different.”
That it is.
Tiafoe’s courtside chair and its surroundings are usually a disorganized mess of towels, water bottles, rackets, tape and other equipment. He operates on his own schedule, which may or may not help him get a watch sponsorship, depending on a manufacturer’s perspective.
At the Laver Cup in September, where Tiafoe teamed up with Jack Sock to play Nadal and Roger Federer in Federer’s last competitive match, Tiafoe ran to the other side of the court to slap Nadal’s hand in the middle of the game after Nadal hit a masterful winner. After Team World beat the Europeans, he showed up characteristically late to the news conference, where he took out a bottle of water and a Budweiser from his jacket.
He was late again after the United States clinched the United Cup earlier this month in Sydney. His teammates, Taylor Fritz, Jessica Pegula and Madison Keys, sat at a table, waiting and shaking their heads.
“Oh, Frances,” Keys said, trying to hold in her laughter.
The casual approach has its benefits. Pegula and Tiafoe bonded at that United Cup in a way that male and female players rarely do, warming each other up before each match, a routine that they have continued during this tournament.