Frances Tiafoe has raised his own sights, too, after reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal last month in Australia. Having vaulted to a career-high No. 30, Tiafoe now believes that a top-20 ranking is possible by year’s end. Maybe top 15.
But Tiafoe’s greatest contribution, when his career on the pro tour is over, may be in helping attract the younger audience that tennis sorely needs to survive in the hypercompetitive sports marketplace.
If so, credit LeBron James with the assist.
But it was Tiafoe’s “King James”-inspired on-court celebrations after each victory in the run-up — in which he ripped off his shirt, thumped his chest, raised his knees and roared, or hiked up a sleeve to slap a flexed biceps — that entertained so many tennis fans who had flocked to Melbourne for what is known as the “Happy Slam.”
“The fans love it; I love it,” Tiafoe said Tuesday in an interview at the McLean headquarters of Octagon, the global sports agency that represents him. “One hundred percent, I think tennis needs it. Tennis needs some different personalities and a lot more emotions.”
That, ideally, is what the highly touted “Next Gen” cohort in men’s tennis — fast-rising, 21-and-under challengers such as Germany’s Alexander Zverev, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, Australia’s Alex de Minaur, and Tiafoe — will bring to a sport that has been carried the past 15 years by Roger Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, all now in their 30s.
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