After winning the USTA's French Open wildcard based on his strong performances in a series of Challengers, Frances Tiafoe has moved to the front of the pack in terms of American men's tennis prospects. Some tennis fans appear to be genuinely excited about Tiafoe's future, but many others are responding by referencing the recent string of hyped up American prospects who failed to deliver. It's understandable why tennis fans are skeptical, but arguing Tiafoe will similarly be a "bust" just because he's the next in line is simply lazy and unfair. Instead, Tiafoe's potential should be evaluated based on the evidence at hand, which indicates he may be better suited for pro success than many of his predecessors.
Tiafoe only turned 17 a few months ago, and his ranking has rocketed from outside the top 1,000 at the beginning of the year to inside the top 300. Further, this is without a full year's worth of tournaments on his schedule, as he only played sparingly in 2014. He appears to be playing at a level closer to someone in the top 150 than merely the top 300.
Though his strokes aren't the prettiest, Tiafoe is a fairly big hitter. His forehand can be particularly lethal, and his backhand is slightly more effective than it should be despite some awkward technique. He moves well around the court, and his serve is already decent and should only improve. Further, he's got a good build for tennis and is already a muscular six foot one. This isn't to say he's a sure thing to be an astounding success, just that the tools are there for a successful pro career. He certainly needs to keep improving or else his weaknesses will be exposed on the ATP Tour, but he's starting with a lot to work with.
Nobody knows what the future holds for Tiafoe-be it Grand Slam titles, a relatively successful pro career or years of bouncing around on the Challenger tour. However, fans of American tennis shouldn't be afraid to get excited merely because others before him failed to pan out how they hoped. He's the second highest ranked 17 year old in the world, and appears to be rising fast. Nobody has to buy the hype, but tennis fans should at least take the time to base their "anti-Tiafoe" arguments on something other than the fact that he happens to be the next American hope.
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