#NextGenATP Tiafoe's Big Breakthrough
First final nerves? Not for Frances Tiafoe. The 20-year-old American coasted to his first ATP World Tour title on Sunday, beating Peter Gojowczyk of Germany 6-1, 6-4 at the Delray Beach Open. Tiafoe becomes the youngest American to win an ATP World Tour title since 19-year-old Andy Roddick at 2002 Houston, and his maiden crown caps off the best two weeks of his career.
Before last week's New York Open, Tiafoe had won nine tour-level matches (9-31) and had never reached a tour-level quarter-final. But after reaching the last eight in New York (l. to Anderson) and triumphing in Delray Beach, Tiafoe almost doubled his tour-level win count (16) in two weeks.
“I was not expecting this this week, especially with how the year started and everything. It's unbelievable. It's obviously a dream to win your first title. Now I got that off my back so that feels pretty good, so early in my career. It's an amazing feeling and I just hope I can get many more as I go along,” Tiafoe said.
In South Florida, the #NextGenATP American had to beat World No. 10 Juan Martin del Potro and Australian Open semi-finalist Hyeon Chung, who is the reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion. In the semi-finals, Tiafoe knocked out #NextGenATP Canadian Denis Shapovalov, who was also seeking his first first tour-level final.
Gojowczyk, however, had been a tricky opponent for Americans all week. The German had beaten a trio of Tiafoe's compatriots – John Isner, Reilly Opelka and Steve Johnson – to make his second ATP World Tour final (2017 Metz, d. Paire).
But the German was slow to start on Sunday. Tiafoe rattled off his service games with ease, and he smacked a forehand return winner to gain a double-break lead at 4-0. Gojowcyzk had his left hamstring wrapped during the 5-0 changeover, but Tiafoe didn't slow down, taking the first set after 25 minutes when Gojowcyzk slapped a forehand return long.
“I was a little bit handicapped today... it was like a needle in the muscle. It was not my day today,” Gojowczyk said. “But still, it was a good week for me, too. I reached my career high now, 51, with this tournament. So keep looking forward.”
The 28-year-old German improved his level in the second set, keeping more balls in play. But almost every time Tiafoe faced pressure on his serve, he was brave and earned the reward for it: his first ATP World Tour title. The 20-year-old fell to the court after a second-serve ace on match point.
Tiafoe also shed a few tears as he walked to his box. The American, whose parents came to the U.S. after fleeing civil war in Sierra Leone, made a point to thank his father during his on-court acceptance speech.
“If you asked me when I was younger if I was going to be here at 20 years old, winning a title, now being in a position to not only help myself but my family, it's an unbelievable place to be in, and I hope to just go only forward,” Tiafoe said.
He's the first among a heralded class of #NextGenATP Americans, which includes Opelka and Taylor Fritz, to win an ATP World Tour title. Tiafoe will receive 250 ATP Rankings points and is projected to rise to No. 61 in the ATP Rankings, just one spot off his career high, on Monday. He will also receive $94,280 in prize money. Gojowczyk will receive 150 ATP Rankings points and $49,650 in prize money.
“I'm just happy there's quite a lot of us, I feel like I'm not alone in this process at all. And I'm still nowhere near playing [my best]. I feel like there's so many things I can work on, so many things I can get better [at],” Tiafoe said.
Tiafoe is also projected to climb to second place in the ATP Race To Milan, which will determine seven of the eight players who compete at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals, to be held 6-10 November in Milan.