Frances Tiafoe steps into the court and takes his racquet back to hit a forehand. He has what’s known as a busy swing. Very busy. It’s long enough, and his wrist is loose enough, that he can flick the frame back and forth a few times as he brings it around. His racquet seems to do dipsy-doodles in the air on its way to hitting the ball.

This technique is usually considered less than ideal. The more elements there are to a stroke, the more things there are that can go wrong with it. Yet Tiafoe hasn’t had much go wrong on a tennis court so far in his life. Two years ago, at age 15, the Maryland native became the youngest boy ever to win the Orange Bowl. The following year, he became the first player since John McEnroe in 1976 to win the Easter Bowl in back-to-back seasons. This year, at 17, Tiafoe turned pro, signed with Jay-Z’s management company, Roc-Nation Sport, began working with the USTA’s top coach, Jose Higueras, and, on Monday, made his Grand Slam debut at the French Open. A lot of people believe in Tiafoe, and a lot more people want to believe in him.

Should they believe? You couldn’t learn anything definitive from his brisk, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 dismissal at the hands of Martin Klizan today. The Slovakian is currently ranked 251 spots ahead of the American, and there seemed to be about that many levels between their games. Tiafoe went down a break early in each of the first two sets; in the third, he went up 3-0 before losing six of the next seven games. He struggled to win second-serve points, tried to go down the line when he should have gone crosscourt, and always seemed to guess the wrong way on Klizan’s serve.

Asked what he learned from the loss, Tiafoe said with a smile, “I need to get a lot better.”

On the plus side, Tiafoe showed that he can stay with the pros physically. He’s 6’2”, very athletic and light on his feet, and his shots sound like professional shots—they pop when they leave the strings. He can also hit with easy power on his serve.

On the minus side, there’s that long, flicky forehand. Klizan was able to rush him on that side, but even when Tiafoe had time to set up, he sent a fair number of balls 10 feet over the baseline. Higueras is obviously an accomplished coach, but I’d guess Tiafoe will need a technical specialist to help him iron out the wrinkles in his forehand and his similarly busy serve.

“Everything can get better,” Tiafoe said when asked what he can improve, before mentioning his serve and volleys in particular.

At 17, Tiafoe has time, but the supply isn’t endless. He’s just a year younger than Croatia’s Borna Coric, who played with veteran savvy, and without many technical hitches, in beating Sam Querrey in four sets on Monday.

What was best about Tiafoe’s day was what came afterward. He showed a lot of promising traits in the press room.

He was honest: “In juniors, like a lot of people were looking up to me last year when I was the No. 1 seed," Tiafoe said. "Now I’m looking up to everyone here. It’s was definitely a lot different. I’ve got to get used to it, I guess.”

He was analytical: “[Klizan is] pretty solid. Doesn’t give you too much. I mean, there is no like loose errors, pretty solid everywhere, moves well. Every time he has a chance to attack, he hurts you. Doesn’t let you get back on defense.”

And he had perspective: Asked to sum up his first Slam, Tiafoe said, “It was great. I had a blast. I didn’t play my best today.”

Parisian Parade

Parisian Parade


There’s something in the way Sloane Stephens looks early in a match that can let you know what you’re going to get from her that day. There’s a sense of resolve...or there’s a lack thereof. On Monday, when she went down 0-2 right off the bat against Venus Williams, I expected to see the lack thereof. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw the resolve, the desire not to lose, and the calm not to let it happen.

It stayed with Stephens all the through her 7-6 (5), 6-1 win in her first meeting with Venus. Sloane broke back to make it 2-2, and she came back from 3-1 down in the first-set tiebreaker that would essentially decide the match. Stephens is often passive, but she was the one littering up the stat sheet when it mattered on Monday. At 3-3 in the breaker, she came up with a forehand winner; at 5-4, she smacked an even better backhand into the corner and past Williams. It was Sloane, not Venus, who finished the match with more winners.

“I didn’t really know to expect,” Stephens said afterward of facing Venus. “I knew I was just going to have to get out there and do my best...I knew if I just stayed in there and played my game that it would be a good match.”

And that might have been the key: Stephens, who reached the semis last week in Strasbourg and says she’s “feeling excited about my game,” didn’t feel pressure to win this match when she walked on court. Instead, she came out with the simpler goal of playing her game as well as she could, and waiting to see what Venus, who has her physical ups and downs, was going to bring to the match.

“That’s one of the things I’m working on,” Stephens said. “I’m focusing on my side of the court and not worried about what’s going on over there.”

Sloane will have to keep her focus on herself again in her second-round match; she’s 0-3 against her next opponent, Heather Watson. This time Sloane will know what to expect, and she’ll know it might not be good. If things go that way again, will she stay as resolved as she did today?

Parisian Parade

Parisian Parade

QUESTION: You’ve been winning all the time, so why is it different now?

AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA: “Maybe getting older. I think. I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”

Aga’s words are halting, but they express what a lot of people are thinking about her game at the moment. She’s been in a slump all season, but her three-set loss to 83rd-ranked Annika Beck may have been the toughest defeat to swallow yet. The last time these two played, Radwanska won 6-0, 6-0. Why the turnaorund? Why is Radwanska 15-13 on the season and out of the Top 10 for the first time in four years? Why did she lose just her second opening-round match in 35 majors?

Your guess appears to be as good as hers, but she did try a few explanations out.

“My game is not really working together.”

“Clay season is not really my favorite one...So I just want to forget about that and focus on grass, I guess.”

“It was really a strange match.”

Asked if she thought working with Martina Navratilova at the start of the year had “made things a bit unstable,” Aga said, “Not really.”

Radwanska wore a shiny dress today, but her game was dull; there was very little of the kitchen-sink creativity we’ve come to expect. The problem with that kind of creativity is that Radwanska needs time to make it happen. Beck, swinging freely and attacking relentlessly, didn’t give her any of it. Maybe losing 0 and 0 to Aga really motivated her. Maybe the best explanation for this result can be found in one set of numbers: Beck hit 41 winners, Radwanska hit 11.


Parisian Parade

Parisian Parade

Now,” Madison Brengle of the U.S. says to the ball kid at the side of the court. Brengle has her racquet pointed toward the youngster; she’s ready to serve and she can’t get the ball soon enough.

Brengle is down 3-5 in the second set to Sam Stosur. She’s lost the first set 6-1. Worse, she’s been overmatched the whole way, so much so that all she wants to do is get off the court as soon as humanly possible. And it’s hard to blame her. The last time these two played, in 2014, the match was close, and Brengle has had a decent clay season in 2015. But she can’t make a dent in the Aussie this time. Bam Bam Sam, the 2010 finalist at Roland Garros, won last week in Strasbourg and has brought her best to Paris again so far. Today, of the 71 points she earns, 38 of them come on winners. That’s a number that will make her competitive with anyone in the draw, including her potential third-round opponent, Maria Sharapova.

Finally, Brengle gets the ball from the ball kid. She immediately tosses it up and serves it, but there's no rushing Sam today. Stosur does the same thing with the return that she’s been doing with her shots all day: She rifles a winner.

Parisian Parade

Parisian Parade


“Actually, I love the Philippe Chatrier. It’s my favorite court. The ambience on this court is amazing. I think that’s why I could actually come back in this match.”

Alizé Cornet obviously doesn’t share a fear of the big French stage with her countrywoman Caroline Garcia. Yesterday the 21-year-old Garcia, after her loss on Chatrier, told the world that she wanted to be “hidden away” from her home fans. Today Cornet used those fans for all they were worth in her three-set win over Roberta Vinci on the big court. It was the first time in five tries that the Frenchwoman had managed to beat the Italian.

The place certainly suits her theatrical style. Today Cornet drew a code violation for bashing a ball into the stands, stared down a line judge who dared to call a foot fault on her in France, and rarely let a winning point go un-fist-pumped. After losing the first set, Cornet flashed her coach a sarcastic thumb’s up—“Nice work,” the thumb said. When she won the third set, though, all was forgiven. After the final point, Cornet pointed up to her team and smiled—“We did it!” her grin said.

Watch for Cornet again soon: She could face No. 3 seed Simon Halep, whom she beat in Madrid earlier this month, in the third round. For Cornet’s sake, let’s hope the match is in Chatrier. She says she hates Lenglen.

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