Francis Tiafoe's giant leap in the rankings has him on verge of quarters at Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships

Fifteen-year-oldrises to No. 38from 448 in year

jdill@bradenton.comDecember 5, 2013 

BAYSHORE GARDENS -- Francis Tiafoe is like many players at this week's Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships.

He grew up playing tennis.

But what is different about the 15-year-old is the steep climb he has made just within the past year.

Tiafoe began 2013 ranked No. 448 in the world.

His current International Tennis Federation junior ranking? It's No. 38.

On Wednesday, Tiafoe took another step forward when he dusted off Francisco Bahamonde 6-4, 6-2 in the boys 18s at IMG Academy.

"First set was crazy intense," Tiafoe said. "It could've went either way. Got a lucky break at 4-all. We had some tough points, and luckily I squeezed it out and started playing very well. ... He had an unbelievable week last week, and he's pretty fatigued coming from Mexico."

It was the second consecutive straight-set victory for Tiafoe.

Tiafoe grew up in College Park, Md., and his father, Constant, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, was an onsite custodian at Junior Tennis Champions Center. Francis and twin brother, Franklin, spent their youth on the courts.

Francis Tiafoe also is teaming with IMG Academy student Michael Mmoh in the doubles tournament this week.

Playing alongside Mmoh, ranked No. 19 in the world, has elevated Tiafoe's game, too.

"We travel a lot together, and when we're around each other, we're getting better," Tiafoe said. "Being with him, he's obviously a tremendous player. ... We're about the same level. When we practice with each other, we push each other."

But the secret to Tiafoe's ascendency is the confidence he's picked up. That has led to more consistent results.

Tiafoe's performance in 2013, most notably a victory at the Pan American ITF in October in Tulsa, Okla. -- has lifted his game to another level.

On Wednesday, Tiafoe flashed a powerful serve and soft hands with some deft drop shots against Bahamonde on the clay surface at IMG.

"The tournament here is much tougher," Tiafoe said. "There (in Tulsa), there was nobody in the top 10. That tournament is behind me. I'm thinking about this tournament."

Another key tournament for Tiafoe was his second trip to the U.S. Open this past September. It was a gratifying experience for Tiafoe even though he exited in the first round of the main juniors draw. His results were better the second time around than in 2012; he won both qualifying matches this past fall to earn his way into the main draw.

"I had a better experience on the back courts winning some matches," Tiafoe said. "I went inside, and lost in about 20, 30 minutes. ... It was great experience. I'm playing against players from all around the world at the U.S. Open; the atmosphere is unbelievable."

Tiafoe will get another test as he moves into the third round with a chance to earn a quarterfinal appearance. He faces Guy Orly Iradukunda, who upset the second seed, France's Johan Sebastien Tatlot, in straight sets Wednesday.

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