By Jane Voigt
March 25, 2017 — Francis Tiafoe couldn’t wait to play Roger Federer.
“This guy has about a million Grand Slams and done everything,” the 19-year-old Tiafoe told the press yesterday, a day before he was to meet the 18-time Grand Slam champion on center court at the Miami Open. It was Tiafoe’s first top-ten matchup. He could not have asked for a better introduction to big-time tennis.
“I mean, I can’t tell you how excited I am to play [him],” Tiafoe continued. “Seeing the draw was partly probably why being up 4-1 [in prior round] I started to rush and think, oh my god, I’m going to play Roger. I’m going to play Roger.”
Federer has played 70 ‘kids’ born in the 1990s. He’s lost to 7 of them. Today was no different, as he beat the teen American, 7-6(2), 6-3.
“I mean, he’s my idol. He’s everybody’s idol,” Tiafoe added. “People still on tour in the locker room stare at him. He’s an absolute legend.”
For all his hype and star-struck anticipation Tiafoe, who had to qualify for the main draw, put on quite a performance in his first second-round appearance at this ATP Masters 1000 tournament. The two went toe-to-toe in the opening set, Tiafoe’s average forehand speed exceeding Federer’s by 5 m.p.h. The ‘kid’ as Tennis Channel talking heads called him, demonstrated exceptional footwork, anticipation and could change the ball’s direction without giving away his targets.
But Federer did what he does to these young whipper-snappers. He notched up his game in the tiebreak, giving the College Park, Maryland, native and Junior Tennis Champions Center alum a taste of swiss precision.
“We were both taking really good care of our serves,” Federer said on court, after the match.
In the second set, Federer pressed as Tiafoe remained composed, saving 3 break points early. But Federer’s court bag of tactics unleashed a barrage of problems Tiafoe could not solve, seeming to dim his enthusiasm for the fight. One down-the-line backhand from Federer zipped past Tiafoe, as he shook his head, although it put on smile on Vogue’s editor in chief, Anna Wintour, a frequent guest of the Federer’s in their player box.
Federer has not played in Miami since 2014 and has won it only twice: 2005 and 2006. However, he is only second in his match record — 44-13 — following Andre Agassi’s record of 61-13 on the all-time list.
Tiafoe is currently ranked No. 101, but was as high as No. 85 earlier this year. He is one of eight American teens that are marketed on social media as #NextGenATP. Within that group, Tiafoe is second only to Jared Donaldson who is currently ranked No. 95. The other ‘kids’ are Ernesto Escobedo, Stefan Kozlov, Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka, Michael Mmmh, and Noah Rubin.
The sunny, breezy afternoon weather was ideal for the tournament, which continues to struggle with expansion plans. The main stadium at the Crandon Park was packed, which was good to see.
As Federer and Tiafoe met at the net after the match ended, the admiration was apparent for both. However, you could say Tiafoe was a bit more humbled by the experience.
“We hope he never retires because he’s such a good ambassador for the sport,” Tiafoe said, at the conclusion of his interview yesterday.