Francis Tiafon of Prince George’s County celebrates after the US Open

As crowds gathered in College Park to celebrate the 24-year-old from Hyattsville, MD, whose heroics stunned Prince George’s County and the nation at the U.S. Open last week, his father looked to steal away fans, reporters and politicians. A quiet moment on the back patio of the Junior Tennis Champions Center.

And yet the people found him. Passers-by stopped and thanked him and congratulated him. The mayor of Greenbelt shook his hand. When Francis Tiafoe came to America from Sierra Leone many years ago, he had more attention than he wanted or expected. But he wasn’t shocked, he proudly stated.

“France now stands for many things,” Tiafoe Sr. said. “It stands for what it came from. It stands for College Park. It stands for America.

To the crowd in College Park, Tiafoe stood in for Prince George. In the year Becoming the first American since 2006 to reach the US Open semifinals gave them more reason than ever to cheer. When Tiafoe returned to the grown-up tennis club, they gathered to give the county’s new star a hero’s welcome. Friday afternoon.

An unlikely tennis pro

After the US Open, the newly converted tennis players and their fans camped out around the JTCC grounds for autographs and photos that county leaders declared ‘French Tiafoe Day’ after Tiafoe’s star spirit. The bright green and blue of the Sierra Leone flag waved from the bleachers as the crowd gathered at the club’s center court to hear Tiafoe’s speech. As he took the microphone, the three-word chant that echoed through New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium a week ago erupted again: “T — ah — enemy!”

“It takes a village,” he said. Without this site, you might not know who Francis Tiafoe is.

In Prince George, to Tiafoe, it’s still Kenilworth Street, the leafy Hyattsville street where he grew up. His entire world was only used to expand Hyattsville and College Park; He attended baseball and basketball games across the Anacostia River at Riverdale Park, and spent evenings with his father at JTCC, where Tiafoe Sr. lived and worked as a maintenance man, finding a free spot for his son at the club’s beginner lessons.

Around the county, Tiafoe knows his profile is much bigger now.

“It really hits home,” Tiafoe said in an interview with The Washington Post. “Many people grew up in low-income areas of Prince George’s County. To do something good and change the whole mindset of the community… I think we can do a lot of special things here.

In the individual lane, 9-year-old Ethan Massai talked excitedly about Tiafoe’s game with his father, Philippe. He is an inspiration to Masai, who is taking lessons with Tiafoe’s former coach Misha Kuznetsov.

“That’s what coach Misha told me to do,” Massey and his father said, enjoying Tiafoe’s volleys and shots over the net.

“I’m not even into tennis,” said Aina Horton, who was online. But once I heard that we have a local from Prince George’s County and he’s also from Sierra Leone, that excited me.

Tiafoe’s success emboldened the tight-knit Sierra Leonean community in Prince George, where Horton, now a fan of Tiafoe and tennis (though still picking up the rules), met Tiafoe.

“Humble beginnings, [his] Parents who came here as immigrants, have been focused and dedicated to tennis since he was three years old…that says a lot,” Horton said.

Tiafoe was soft-spoken Friday and admitted he’s still struggling, having been sidelined for two weeks. As reporters remember, he stood at the changing of the guard in the world of tennis after the retirement of Serena Williams and Roger Federer; The tennis scene is hungry for a new champion. He seemed burdened by the US Open – “I feel like I let you down,” he told the New York crowd after his thrilling semi-final defeat.

Back home he vowed to continue his efforts – at court and for Prince George.

“I think a lot of people are looking at this area,” Tiafoe said. “A lot of people [here] They feel they have something to prove.

Everyone from athletes to members of Congress have called to support him in New York — “that’s the great thing about the DMV area,” Tiafoe said, “we’ve got each other’s backs” — and the thought that he could set an example was real. Boys in the county, like his fellow Prince of Georgia, Kevin Durant, were there for him.

After helping his son rise to the top of American tennis, Tiafoe Sr. wants to turn his attention to helping Prince George’s youth. He said he is thinking of going out and doing a fundraiser. But not before enjoying today. On the back porch of the JTCC, he gasped.

“You see that window over there?” He said pointing to the brick wall of the clubhouse. “I lived in that room for 16 years.”

“I have not labored in vain,” he said.

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