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Frances Tiafoe, a future tennis champion?
01:48 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Teenager Frances Tiafoe to play in U.S. Open

Following in footsteps of former U.S. greats

Tiafoe was born in Sierra Leone

Plays Victor Troicki in the first round Tuesday

CNN  — 

When Frances Tiafoe takes the court at the U.S. Open for his opening round singles match this week, he will become the first American to play two slams in the same year before turning 18 since Pete Sampras and Michael Chang back in 1989.

The Maryland native made his grand slam debut in the French Open at Roland Garros earlier this summer, losing in the first round to Slovakia’s Martin Kližan, a commonplace opening gambit for any tennis player on the rise, but his rise to this point has been anything but ordinary.

His parents left the West African nation of Sierra Leone, eventually meeting in the United States, where they would have twins, Franklin and Frances.

Their father, Constant Tiafoe signed on as a day laborer at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in Washington, D.C. back in 1999.

While working around the clock, his father was forced to move into a vacant storage room at the tennis center, where his two boys would stay with him, sleeping on a massage table, while their mother worked night shifts as a nurse.

Tough upbringing

While much has been written of of the tennis prodigy’s tough upbringing, Frances said he wouldn’t change hit the world.

“Obviously, I wasn’t the wealthy kid, or wasn’t having all the new stuff or whatever. But I was just living life. I could play tennis for free, the sport I loved,” he told CNN.

At just 15 years old, Tiafoe won the prestigious Orange Bowl, became the youngest boys’ singles champion in the tournament’s history.

A remarkable feat when you consider the list of previous champions which include Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Ivan Lendl, Jim Courier, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

Since, then Tiafoe has concentrated much of his energy in climbing the senior ranks, jumping from 1,151 to 275 in the world in the last year.

Teenage prospect

While many junior prodigy’s have come and gone, Tiafoe’s unique background and work ethic instilled by his parents, could well set him apart from the rest “with them trying so hard, I felt like I didn’t want to let them down.

“I felt like I didn’t want to let the opportunities go for granted.”

This week his first opportunity to shine at the U.S. Open comes against the 22nd seed, Serbian Viktor Troicki, a tough opener Tuesday, but Tiafoe could enhance his already growing reputation with an upset victory.

Only 17 in January, he is the second-ranked junior in the world, but having turned professional earlier this year it is the full ATP Tour where the big-hitting Tiafoe is aiming to make his real impression and live up to his early promise.