“Big Foe on the Come Up.” This was the phrase that Frances Tiafoe scrawled on the camera lens after his win over fellow 18-year-old American Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells on Friday. While the words were as unconventional as they were agrammatical, it didn’t take too much brain-racking to figure out what they meant. In case you couldn’t, though, Tiafoe helped explain a few minutes later in a Tennis Channel interview.
“I’m on the rise,” he said with a gap-toothed smile.
Based on this weekend’s evidence, Tiafoe’s message also appears to be appropriate. After a flurry of early attention from the media, as well as from Jay Z’s publicity agency, this Baltimore blaster had spent 2016 losing out to Fritz in the Next Great American sweepstakes. Tiafoe had won all three of their junior meetings, but as Indian Wells began he was ranked No. 177, while his friend and frequent practice partner had leaped all the way to No. 80 after reaching a tour final in Memphis. Attention-wise, was Tiafoe on the verge of being yesterday’s news before his 19th birthday?
That question has now been answered with a definitive no, and maybe that’s why he celebrated his three-set win over Fritz with such gusto. Tiafoe roared, shook his head, dropped his racquet, looked to the sky, and then, as NFL wide receivers like to do when they’ve made it to the end zone, pretended that he was having a bowl of soup. Afterward, though, a still-pleased but more measured Tiafoe said he had just been trying to treat it like any other match.