- The Washington Times - Monday, August 2, 2021

Frances Tiafoe sat in the interview room at the Citi Open on Sunday, sporting his U.S. Olympic team sweatshirt with a red T-shirt underneath, smiling throughout his press conference.

He had just returned from Tokyo, where the 23-year-old tennis player made his first Olympic appearance, advancing to the second round. Before that, he beat world No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the opening round at Wimbledon.

Tiafoe put it simply about how he felt going into his hometown tournament: He’s motivated and primed to play well this week.

“The best I felt in a while,” Tiafoe said. “I’m playing some great tennis. I’m ready to go.”

The Hyattsville, Maryland, native has strung multiple strong performances together in his recent tournaments on grass, winning Nottingham in mid-June and making a quarterfinal appearance at Queen’s the next week before his run at Wimbledon.

He said this is the first time he’s won this many consecutive matches “in a long time.”

“I think I can play well, but so sporadically,” Tiafoe said. “To have that many wins in a short span was really nice. To beat a high-caliber player in a major, and very much so convincingly.”

The No. 53 player in the world is right. He beat Tsitsipas in straight sets at Wimbledon in the first round and then knocked off World No. 65 Vasek Pospisil in three sets as well.

At Nottingham, Tiafoe cruised through the field, winning four of his five matches in straight sets, including a 6-1, 6-3 win over fellow American Denis Kudla in the finals.

Though he’s had success, Tiafoe isn’t close to his highest world ranking, which was No. 29 in February 2019. That doesn’t bother Tiafoe; he wants to be one of the best in the world.

“It’s not really about getting back to 29 in the world,” Tiafoe said. “I see myself as a top 15, top 10 guy. … Being at the top of the game is what I’m approaching.”

Tiafoe has a chance to improve his ranking over the next month leading up to the U.S. Open, which kicks off at the end of August. He, like many other professional tennis players, is preparing for the grand slam in American hardcourt tournaments.

Tiafoe’s first test: this week’s Citi Open. 

The event wasn’t played last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tiafoe did play in the 2019 tournament, losing to Daniil Medvedev in the Round of 16.

This year, Tiafoe is the No. 16 seed in the singles draw, earning the final bye into the second round. He’ll face Jenson Brooksby on Tuesday after Brooksby grabbed the last six points of the opening set and went on to beat Kevin Anderson 7-6 (4), 6-3, on Monday.

“Honestly, I just got to keep staying at where I’m staying at,” Tiafoe said of his approach. “I’ve been winning a lot of matches lately, a lot more convincingly as well.”

Should Tiafoe win his first match in Washington, he’ll meet the No. 2-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime, a Canadian who made a quarterfinals appearance at Wimbledon this year, in the Round of 16.

In other matches Monday, Andreas Seppi advanced to a matchup against No. 2 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime by beating Yusatka Uchiyama 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, Daniel Elahi Galan eliminated Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-3 and Ricardas Berankis defeated qualifier Mitchell Krueger 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Not only is Tiafoe playing in the singles tournament this week at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center, he’s also competing in doubles with the defending Citi Open singles champion Nick Kyrgios.

The duo haven’t played together in a tournament, but they’ve practiced with each other in the past. The two players have a playful dynamic, and Kyrgios joked that he doesn’t know how they’ll be able to concentrate on the court.

“Me and Frances, when we’re together, we don’t stop laughing and we don’t have any sort of tennis talk really,” Kyrgios said Sunday. “We’ll see how it’s going to go.”

He said the two have talked about playing doubles in the past but never were able to do it. Their introduction to doubles together won’t be an easy task, as they are squaring off against the third-seeded pair of Rohan Bopanna and Ivan Dodig.

Dodig, a Croatian, earned a silver medal in doubles with Marin Cilic in Tokyo. The duo faced Tiafoe and his U.S. doubles partner Rajeev Ram in the Olympic games, beating the Americans in two sets.

“It’s going to be a tough match,” Kyrgios said. “I played a lot of doubles in my career. I’ve seen how much it can go from like a roller coaster out there.”

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