The 24-year-old simply stood there taking in the atmosphere at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.
It felt like a seminal moment in American work; The culmination of hard work and raw talent that has long been heralded as the future of men’s tennis in the country.
Tiafoe’s expectations have long been high and the world number 26 is now looking more than comfortable on the sport’s biggest stage.
And Tiafoe beat Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to reach the semifinals, the best result of his career — a feat made all the more impressive by his humble beginnings.
Tiafoe’s path to tennis was by no means traditional.
His father, Constant Tiafoe, died in 2011. In 1999, they started working at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, DC, and eventually moved into one of their open storage rooms, working around the clock.
His two sons sometimes stayed with him, sleeping on the massage table, while their mother worked the night shift as a nurse.
The unusual gateway to the sport gave Tiafoe the opportunity to hone his skills and he never looked back once he began training at the facility.
Spurred on by his parents’ work ethic, he won the prestigious Orange Bowl – one of the most prestigious junior tournaments in tennis – at the age of 15, becoming the youngest men’s singles champion in the tournament’s history.
He joins a list of former champions including Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Jim Currier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
It was a sign of things to come.
Maturity on tour
Tiafoe In 2015, he turned professional and began to familiarize himself with the rigors of the top tour.
At the 2019 Australian Open, he broke into the world’s top 100 before losing to Nadal in the first quarter-finals and began proving himself at the Grand Slam.
Three years later, Wednesday found himself in another quarter-final, only this time he felt more ready to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Honestly, when I came to the stage, I wasn’t mentally ready and I wasn’t mature enough,” he said after beating Nadal. “I’ve been able to grow and have a great team around me.
“I’m happy to win in front of my mom, dad, girlfriend and team and get them to see what I’ve done.”
While proving himself as a competitor on the court, Tiafoe is pursuing social justice.
In the year He told CNN Sports in 2022 that the sport’s lack of diversity made him feel like an “outsider” and vowed to continue fighting for equality while still having a platform to do so.
After the death of George Floyd sparked protests around the world, he created a protest video in 2022 to highlight racial injustice.
He posted the “Rackets Down, Hands Up” video on his social media channels in collaboration with black players and coaches like Serena Williams and Coco Gauff.
On court, his match against Rublev was the biggest of his career to date.
The crowd cheered the hero, hoping that he would reach new heights in his quest to win the greatest glory. They also did not lose a match in which they did not lose in the service game.
After taking down world number 11 Rublev, Tiafoe told the crowd: “I feel very at home on courts like this. This court is unbelievable. You guys get behind me, you know I want to play and I want to give. It’s great. On this court all the time. I’ll find a way. I always try to play good tennis and I was. Let’s enjoy it. We got two more guys. We got two more.
NBA star LeBron James congratulated Tiafon on making the quarterfinals and his performance caught the attention of some big names.
Make no mistake, though, this is not an overnight success story. It is the result of thousands of hours of work and an unquestionable mindset.
But, with the weight of a nation resting on his shoulders, Tiafoe is always focused on making his parents proud.
He told CNN Sport in 2015, “I felt like I didn’t want to let them down, trying so hard for them.”
CNN’s Jacob Lev, Steve Almasy, Will Edmonds and Christina McFarlane contributed reporting.