Rising American tennis star Frances Tiafoe grew up in Maryland as the son of two immigrants from Sierra Leone. At just 21, Tiafoe is making waves in the tennis world at the Australian Open, with upset victories over Kevin Anderson and Gregor Dimitrov. Tiafoe has said he would not be where he is today without the sacrifices of his family.
Tiafoe’s parents, Constant Tiafoe and Alphina Kamara, have been by his side throughout his journey up the tennis ranks. His twin brother, Franklin Tiafoe, has also been key to his success. As a kid, Tiafoe and his brother lived in an office at a Maryland tennis center where his father worked as a custodian. From those humble roots, Tiafoe emerged as a prodigy and later moved to Florida to pursue a professional career.
“I obviously wasn’t a normal tennis story,” Tiafoe told The New York Times.
Here’s what you need to know about Frances Tiafoe’s family:
1. Tiafoe’s Parents Moved to Maryland in the 1990s to Escape the Civil War in Their Home Country of Sierra Leone
Frances Tiafoe was born in Hyattsville, Maryland, to Constant Tiafoe and Alphina Kamara Tiafoe, both immigrants from the West African nation of Sierra Leone. His father came to the United States in 1993 and his mother in 1996. They were both escaping the civil war in their native country.
Alphina Tiafoe told The Washington Post that before she left Sierra Leone, “I was going to a funeral every week.” The war would claim the lives of 50,000 and displace millions. Alphina won the visa lottery and a green card to work in the United States.
She has since become a U.S. citizen. “I was looking for a better life,” she told The Post. “A better future.” She told the newspaper she reminds her sons, “You guys are lucky. You were both born here. You have everything in your hands.”
Tiafoe better understood the gift his parents gave him when he traveled to Sierra Leone with his mother and brother for a wedding.
“That definitely put life into a completely different perspective – the poverty was pretty bad,” Tiafoe told the BBC. “We realized that we ain’t rich or living the high life, but we are definitely still blessed. We got food on the table every night, parents who love us, a TV, all the accessories we need. It ain’t terrible, you know what I saying? I was definitely not running my mouth after that – I was about the happiest kid in the world.”
2. His Father Worked as a Custodian at the Tennis Center Where Tiafoe Trained & Briefly Lived, While His Mother Was a Nurse
When he was a child, Frances Tiafoe spent time living with his brother and father at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where his father worked as a custodian, sleeping on a massage table, according to The Washington Post. They also lived with their mother when she was not working on the night shift as a nurse, according to The Post.
Tiafoe spent many years training at the Junior Tennis Champions Center, with his father making a deal for him to play there without paying the usual fees. He later moved to Florida, where he trained at the USTA National Training Center in Boca Raton, and emerged as a prodigy on the junior circuit, according to The Washington Post.
The Post’s Liz Clarke described the elder Tiafoe’s role at the tennis center:
Chronically strapped for cash, Tiafoe Sr. turned it into two jobs: keeping the complex clean by day and taking care of the clay courts by night. He had never played tennis in his life. But he quickly learned to water and roll the courts and sometimes completely resurface them, hauling dozens of 75-pound bags of clay to each court.
It was while working these round-the-clock shifts that he moved into a vacant 10-by-14-foot room at the tennis complex. He slept and took his showers there, ordered in food and stored his clothes all over the complex — on hangers, in a suitcase, in a shed outside. And during stretches when the mother of his sons, Alphina Kamara, worked night shifts as a licensed practical nurse, the boys stayed with him.
A gregarious man with a big smile and long dreadlocks, Tiafoe Sr. became an unofficial ambassador of the Junior Tennis Champions Center, greeting visitors, detailing members’ cars, even taking up the game himself as a former high school sprinter who missed the thrill of competing. And when his boys were 5, he got them enrolled, free of charge, in the clinic for the littlest children.
Tiafoe has used his background as inspiration. And in every new moment of success, Tiafoe is not afraid to show his emotions and celebrate.
“I feel like I’m very different than other tennis players,” Tiafoe told Sports Illustrated. “I feel like I show emotion when I lose a point. I get real pumped up. I get really excited. I’ve got my own swagger out there. And I feel like it’s good people see something different and that everyone can be their own person and still bring quality tennis.”
Tiafoe told The Post, “It’s not like everything was given to me. I had to really work hard for it and earn it. I’m very thankful for what I have. I don’t want to let anyone down. … I’ve been on a tennis court all my life. The only thing that’s been there longer is the net post.”
3. Tiafoe’s Twin Brother, Also Plays Tennis & Was a Star at DeMatha High School in Maryland
Frances Tiafoe’s twin brother, Franklin Tiafoe, also plays tennis. He was a standout at DeMatha High School in Maryland and then played one year of college tennis at Salisbury University.
Frances told The Washington Post about his brother, “We’re really good friends. He’s really supportive of me, and I give him advice when I can on his tennis. He pushes me, and I push him. . . . He keeps me grounded, he keeps me humble and he keeps me focused.”
4. He Has Expressed Gratitude for His Family’s Sacrifices & Has Embraced His Role as an Inspiration to Young Black Tennis Players
Tiafoe often posts about the importance of his family on social media, especially about how much they have given him along his road to the professional tennis circuit.
He told the BBC that learning about his parents native country of Sierra Leone changed his view on things. “It humbled me and made me serious. It came into my head pretty quick to use tennis as a way to help, not only myself, but our family because they have sacrificed so much,” he said.
Tiafoe, who went back to train at the junior tennis center in 2018 after a string of losses, added, “You can’t forget your roots. It was just about remembering why I started tennis in the first place and being among people who will love you no matter what, whether you are on top on the bottom.”
He told News 24, “It’s cool. I tell them all the time, it’s not even about me. They sacrificed way more than I did. They had to come to the States, my mum was working double over-time being a nurse while my dad was a maintenance worker living at College Park. They did loads for me and my twin brother. We couldn’t be anymore thankful. Right now I’m just returning the favor. I don’t have an excuse never to not compete in a match.”
The emerging star also knows he is an inspiration to young black athletes.
Tiafoe told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t play just for myself and for my family. I just want to have plenty more people play tennis,” he said Sunday. “I think it’s a great sport. You get to travel the world, see plenty of things and really grow as an individual. Obviously it’s a one-on-one sport, so it’s all on you—you’ve got no one really helping you. When you lose, you lose. You can say you have your team, but at the end of the day you’re the one swinging the racket. So it builds character.”
He added, “Obviously a lot of young black people are playing football or basketball. I would love for them to play tennis. That’s one of my biggest motivations—to get more black people playing tennis.”
5. Tiafoe Is Dating UCLA Tennis Player Ayan Broomfield
Frances Tiafoe’s girlfriend also plays tennis. Ayan Broomfield, who he has dated since 2015, plays collegiate tennis for the UCLA Bruins after a stint at Clemson University.
Broomfield is a native of Toronto, Canada. They were introduced to each other by another tennis player, Vickie Duval, Tiafoe told Tennis World USA.
“A friend, Vickie Duval — I’m sure you guys heard the name — said (in) some 2015, earlier in that year, said you all should date. And I thought, okay, that’s quite bold,’ Tiafoe said. ‘But then, obviously Instagram these days and slid in her direct messages,” he told the tennis website. “It was quite weird. I don’t usually do it, and we started talking a little bit, and then I asked for her number. And I was like, okay, well, the US Open is coming soon. You’re Canadian. Surely you came with your family or what not.”
Tiafoe said Broomfield “played hard to get,” but eventually started coming to his matches. He then asked her out.
“And then I actually did it over FaceTime. I didn’t even do it in person. I’m not even going to lie. I was tight,” Tiafoe told Tennis World USA.