Frances Tiafoe is one busy 17-year-old. After deciding to turn pro in April, he became the first tennis prospect to sign with Jay-Z’s agency Roc Nation Sports. He managed to climb the ATP tennis rankings from No. 1136 to No. 292, And this month, Tiafoe debuted at the French Open – just one year after competing in the junior tournament.
Though the Maryland native lost in his Grand Slam Debut, the young American star is just beginning his journey in the world of pro tennis. SI Kids caught up with the rising tennis pro to talk about playing in the French Open and dealing with big expectations while still a teenager.
You played in the junior tournament at the French Open last year. How is your mindset different going into this year’s competition?
This year I’m going in with no pressure. Last year, I was a one seed in the junior tournament and now I’m a wild card in the pros, so I’m just going to go in, have fun, and compete as hard as I can.
You’ve been called the brightest US tennis prospect in a generation. Do you feel any pressure with that? How do you handle it?
It’s been a rumor, but I just think of myself as a young American tennis player. I don’t think I would say that I’m the best in a generation because there’s a great group of young Americans competing and playing well right now. I would say we’re all on the same level and we want to keep building. We’re all trying to push each other every day. There are a lot of great Americans coming up, so I’m happy to be included in that group.
What’s the physical preparation and training like? Do you change your routine up at all before a big event like the French Open?
I’ve been working really hard for a really long time. I’m still focused on getting better, but I’m not really trying to change anything unless my coaches tell me I need to.
How will you use this experience as a learning experience?
I’m just going to soak it all in. It’s not every day you’re 17 years old and you’re playing in a Grand Slam. So I just want to soak it all in. I want to practice against as many pros as possible and be as professional as possible. I want to feel comfortable in that environment because that’s where I would like to be.
Recently, you became the first tennis player to sign with Roc Nation, Jay Z’s agency. Why did you think that would be a good fit for you?
The agent here was a really nice guy and really cared about me a lot and believed in me a lot. He’s been doing an unbelievable job so far, and I think he’s going to help me with my tennis career a lot.
For a lot of 17 year olds, being in your position would be overwhelming, but you’ve already been to France and won. Actually you’ve won twice (2012). What was your first trip to France like?
France is probably my favorite place to compete, even though I was younger the last time I was there. I was able to play there twice in great events, and I had an unbelievable time. I love France. I was able to spend some time in downtown Paris and see the Eiffel Tower and everything, and I really enjoyed myself.
Have you traveled to any other countries, for tournaments or for fun?
Yeah, I’ve been to the Czech Republic, Mexico, Canada, Spain. I’ve been to a lot of countries. I don’t really travel for fun. If I’m not playing, I’d rather stay in LA, Florida, or home.
What’s your favorite in-flight activity?
I like listening to music and watching movies. I don’t really have a favorite movie, but I like Kevin Hart movies and lots of other comedies.
When you’re not on the court training or traveling for tournaments, I understand you’re a big Washington Wizards fan. And I heard you were able to go to a game recently and meet Paul Peirce? How was that experience? Did he give you any advice?
I only really travel from Maryland to DC to watch the Wizards, and that was an unbelievable experience. Especially the fact that he knew who I was, it made it all even crazier. It was so cool to be able to shake his hand and see the locker room and all that. I think the best part was him saying he would come to the US Open and watch me play.
Photo: Francois Mori/AP