Up 5-2 in the first set, Francis Tiafoe started to feel the match slipping away.
“I definitely could have made that a little easier,” he told The Desert Sun. “I was up in the first set and we were both playing ugly tennis.”
His opponent, Nathan Ponwith, started to fight back, pushing the first set into a tiebreak. For the recently crowned 2013 Orange Bowl Champion, though, this week’s ASICS Easter Bowl, the year’s biggest American junior tennis tournament, was an opportunity to live up to the hype.
After months of articles touting his potential, an invite to play at Madison Square Garden, and a proclamation from Prince George’s County for athletic achievement, Tiafoe came into the week full of expectations.
If Sunday is any indication, those expectations will be met.
After squeaking out the first set 7-3 in the tiebreak, Tiafoe dropped the second set 4-6. With the championship and all the plaudits on the line in the third set, the champion delivered.
“I started moving better and seeing the ball better,” he told The Washington Post. Tiafoe stormed back to win 6-2 in the third set and become the first American since John McEnroe in 1976 to win both Orange Bowl and Easter Bowl 18s titles (via ZooTennis).
The win now makes Tiafoe the top American junior in the world, pulling him into second in the ITF Junior Rankings behind Australian Open Juniors champion Alexander Zverev from Germany.
More plaudits and expectations will inevitably follow. For Tiafoe, however, the task will remain the same: stay focused on the next big tournament. In this case, the French Open Junior championships.
“That’s some place and I’m really looking forward to being there,” he said. “I’ve been watching that tournament on TV since I was 6 years old.” (Desert Sun)
With that kind of humility, Tiafoe’s potential will not go unfulfilled.
To view complete results of the 18s tournament, click here.
For JTCC, this week also struck a redemptive note, having lost five finals at last week’s International Spring Championships in Carson, CA.
In addition to Tiafoe’s win in boys 18s, Caleb Chakravarthi and Evan Zhu emerged champions in the boys 16s doubles division, defeating Mark Vasat and Brenden Volk 8-4 in a one set final.
The all-JTCC team, unseeded for the draw, upset the No. 4 and No. 5 ranked teams en route to the final. They played together last week in Carson, only to lose in the second round.
For complete results of the 12s, 14s, and 16s tournament, click here.