Francis Tiafoe is a 14 year old tennis phenom who, if he isn’t already, should be on corporate sponsors’ radars.
The obvious reason: he’s got skills. As the nation’s top-ranked boys player in his age group, Tiafoe has the potential to become the next star in men’s tennis at a time when the game is going through a greatness drought (it’s been almost a decade since a U.S. male won a major).
But Tiafoe didn’t become a rising star in a conventional way. It’s his underdog story that will really attract sponsors and fans.
Tennis is an expensive sport. Those who play at a professional level usually come from privileged backgrounds, allowing them access to top-notch coaches, exclusive tennis clubs, and the best equipment. But Tiafoe wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. There is no Jr., III attached to his name. If it weren’t for the fact that Tiafoe’s father was employed by the Tennis Center at College Park, a private tennis club in Maryland, Francis may never have had the means or the resources to hone his talent.
Francis’ father was the Tennis Center’s janitor for more than a decade. During that time, he lived on the grounds with Francis and his twin brother, Franklin; the family slept on massage tables in a 120 sq. foot space that became their makeshift home. Mr. Tiafoe earned less than the club’s $27,000 annual membership fee, but because Francis lived on the grounds it was as if he was a member. He had access to the courts, the coaches, and the equipment.
Francis spent much of his early life watching his more privileged peers learn the game. Eventually, he would begin to practice with his brother, early in the morning, before lessons started. He quickly fell in love with tennis. After years of practice, the Tennis Center coaches noticed his talent and took him under their wings. And now he’s winning prestigious international tournaments — Les Petits As 2012, for one.
While Tiafoe’s tennis chops are impressive, it’s his inspiring rags to riches tale that has the potential to grab all Americans, who have always had a soft spot for talented athletes with Cinderella stories.
Wilson and adidas already have endorsement deals in the works. And we’re betting it doesn’t stop there.