‘Great Entertainment’: Frances Tiafoe Upsets Stefanos Tsitsipas at Wimbledon

The unseeded American beat the French Open finalist in straight sets, and talked with a fellow first-round winner, Sloane Stephens, about the power of positive thinking.

Frances Tiafoe celebrated defeating No. 3 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday.
Credit...Aeltc/David Gray/Pool Via Reuters

WIMBLEDON, England — Frances Tiafoe was the underdog going into his first round match at Wimbledon on Monday afternoon against Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the third seed and a recent French Open finalist. But on a rainy day at Wimbledon, the unseeded 23-year-old American shone.

“The minimum I want to do is at least give myself a chance to win — I did,” Tiafoe said. “I woke up this morning like, ‘Yeah, I’m beating Stefanos.’ It happened. I think believing it when nobody else does is so big.”

The 57th-ranked Tiafoe led the match from wire to wire, breaking Tsitsipas, 22, in the opening game and staying in front for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 victory on No. 1 Court.

Tiafoe, who saved all seven break points he faced, sealed the match by breaking Tsitsipas for a fourth time. After the two shook hands, Tiafoe rolled up his sleeves and flexed his biceps, slapped his chest, and punched the air.

Tiafoe, who entered his news conference wearing a T-shirt bearing a photograph of Arthur Ashe in a fur coat, said that putting on a show against a top player was something he was delighted to “get to” do. “These are honors; these aren’t chores,” Tiafoe said.

“At the end of the day, when I’m done with the game, I want people to say: ‘It was great entertainment to watch Frances Tiafoe. He’s a great guy first and a tennis player second.’”

Tiafoe, the son of a maintenance worker who grew up living in a small room at a Maryland tennis academy, said he didn’t feel pressure despite previously being 0-10 against top-five opponents.

“Pressure? I feel like I already overcame pressure, man,” he said. “I played on No. 1 Court today. If you told me when I was 10 years old I’d be playing on No. 1 court, beat No. 4 in the world? And I’ve been able to play Roger, Rafa, Novak in big stadiums. I mean, those are the moments you appreciate. I’ve come such a long way.”

“Pressure was turning pro, being able to provide for my family; I’m able to do that,” he added. “I think perspective is everything. But there’s a long way I want to go. I’ve handled my real pressures. Everything else is kind of between the lines.”

Tiafoe’s coach, the former South African player Wayne Ferreira, said they had worked on keeping Tiafoe’s mind from wandering at key moments.

“When he’s seeing that he’s getting closer to winning the match, it’s always difficult keeping the concentration, like you could see in the third set,” Ferreira said. “It’s about trying to not rush things, trying to have a routine of doing the same thing every single time, taking the same time, keeping the focus. It’s little things that make a big difference, and he did a good job of holding it. It could have gotten tougher.”

Tsitsipas, who did not play any grass-court tournaments to prepare for Wimbledon after his grueling run to the French Open final, said that Tiafoe had played “really well” but that he regretted not entering a warm-up event. “Any of these tournaments would have helped, for sure, get me in a better shape, get my tennis ready for the grass-court season,” Tsitsipas said.

Sloane Stephens has dropped in the rankings but has focused on her attitude.
Credit...Neil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock

Tiafoe said that he had been talking to another prominent Monday winner, Sloane Stephens, about how quickly fortunes can change in the sport. Stephens, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, defeated the 10th-seeded Petra Kvitova, 6-3, 6-4, on Centre Court.

“It’s not easy to always be playing at your top level,” Tiafoe said. “It’s just managing the highs and lows, but always understanding that you’re a baller, you’re capable. She’s so capable.”

For Stephens, who is unseeded at Wimbledon and at her lowest ranking in four years, No. 73, positive thinking remains paramount. “There’s definitely panic when you’re on a losing streak, I will say that,” she said. “It’s definitely, like, ‘I have to change this, my racket is not right, I need different shoes, I need a new coach.’ All of those things that creep into your mind.

“But I think for tennis, one week you could be pretty average and basic, and the next week you could be like quarter-ing, semi-ing a Grand Slam and your whole world changes.”