Frances Tiafoe: The Tennis Academy of the US Open

How Frances Tiafoe went from sleeping at a tennis center to the US Open semifinals for the first time on Thursday: A month of training at the tennis academy of the US Open, plus a little bit of luck

Frances Tiafoe was preparing to turn 18 on a Tuesday in January, and was looking forward to celebrating the milestone with her older brother, Michael. It was a typical New Jersey high school graduation party. They were going to a restaurant, but Frances suggested they try one of her favorite establishments, the Tennis Academy of the US Open, because “you can’t beat the food.”

Tiafoe went from that to a tournament in Atlanta in early February, where she was assigned a partner named Madison. Their first lesson involved a tennis ball that had been given to Madison in her tennis ball collection. “We had to learn which tennis ball was yours. The other player had to pick up the tennis ball and toss it back to me,” Tiafoe told me on Friday at a press conference for her historic run at the US Open. “There was a ball in Madison’s bag.

[The ball is] used at a tennis clinic run by P.J. Carlesimo, the founder of the Tennis Academy, to teach new players how to return an attacking ball. Frances Tiafoe plays a match against Madison Keys, in February

“When I got the ball back from Madison, I realized that I did have the ball, so I grabbed it and tossed it back to her. It broke into the side-view mirror. I knew if I threw it back, I was going to lose, and there was a tennis ball in her bag. I threw the ball back to her, and she won the point and I lost. I was so excited: the ball had turned into a new tennis ball!”

Tiafoe would end up winning the point, and earning herself a spot in the semifinals at the US Open, against the world’s No. 14 seed Madison Keys. After making

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