Like many of the teenagers competing this week in the Orange Bowl International Championship, 14-year-old Francis Tiafoe learned the game at a posh tennis club amongst rich kids. But Tiafoe’s path to the elite world of junior tennis was nothing like that of his peers.
Not even close.
Tiafoe’s father, Constant, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, was the janitor at the Tennis Club of College Park (Md.), home of the Junior Tennis Champions Center. He had worked on the construction crew that built the club then hired to work maintenance.
He often brought along his twin sons, Francis and Franklin. They napped on the massage tables, helped their dad with odd jobs and dabbled with rackets on the court.
When Francis was 8, coach Mikhail Kouznetsov took him under his wing. Last January, he won the Teen Tennis title in Bolton, England, and the title at Les Petits As, a prestigious Under-14 event in France. He was also on the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the World Tennis Championship in Czech Republic in August. He is the top-ranked boy in the 14s and considered by many U.S. coaches to have tremendous promise. Adidas and Wilson are providing him with equipment.
He is playing the 16s at the Orange Bowl event and was very dejected after losing his opening match 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 on Monday to No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia.
“All respect to him, but I didn’t respond well and it’s very disappointing,” he said. “I thought after I came back to win the second set that I could win, but it got windy, and he played better. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.”
Among the American winners in the Girls 18s were world No. 1 Taylor Townsend, who beat Ivana Jorovic of Serbia 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (8-6); Allie Kiick of Plantation, who beat Dominika Paterova of Czech Republic 6-1, 6-3; Chalena Scholl of Pompano Beach, who beat Sandra Samir of Egypt 7-6 (7-1), 6-4; and Rasheeda McAdoo, who won 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 over No. 3 seed Elizaveta Kulichkova.
Townsend, 16, is the reigning Australian Open junior champion and Wimbledon junior doubles champion. The Chicago native is based at the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton.
Over the weekend, it was announced that she signed with Lagardere Unlimited and will turn pro for the 2013 season. That means she is ineligible for a college scholarship and will play a limited schedule on the WTA Tour due to age restrictions.
There were several American winners in the 16s Boys Division, including 14-year-old William Blumberg, who beat Pengxuan Jiang of China 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; No. 3 seed Henrik Wiersholm, who beat fellow American Grayson Broadus 6-3, 6-2; No. 12 seed Tommy Paul, who beat Artur Dubinski of Belarus 6-4, 6-0; Jake Devine, who beat American Lamar Remy 7-5, 6-3; and Julian Zlobinsky, who beat Colombian Mateo Andres Ruiz Naranjo 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
In the Girls 16s, Marie Norris defeated Olivia Sneed 6-1, 7-5 in an all-USA match; No. 3 seed Madison Bourguignon beat Ellyse Hamlin 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), and Chloe Michelle Oullet-Pizer beat Marie-Alexandre Leduc of Canada 6-2, 6-1.
Matches continue today through Sunday.
Plantation police were called to the tournament grounds Saturday during qualifying rounds to investigate whether a father hit his daughter on the head with a racket after she lost a match.
The winner of the match told police she turned around when she heard the other player cry out, and saw her opponent holding her head with a laceration on her forehead while the father walked away holding a racket. The winning player did not witness the alleged strike.
The father said he did not hit his daughter and both he and the girl said they did not know how she was injured. Due to a lack of witnesses, no charges were filed.
“We are aware of the situation and are cooperating with authorities,’’ said tournament director Lew Brewer of the U.S. Tennis Association.