10:31 AM GMT November 08, 2019
Frances Tiafoe is one of the many players who have used their time at the Next Gen ATP Finals to reach even greater heights on the ATP Tour.
Two months after his debut appearance in Milan last year, the American racked up his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open, and by April, he had achieved his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final at the Miami Open presented by Itau and a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 29.
In Milan, the second seed has surpassed his 2018 performance by advancing out of round-robin play and into the semi-finals against top-seeded Aussie Alex de Minaur.
”I think a lot of guys have taken big positives from playing in this event. They have something to strive for. I think you see a lot of young guys playing well because of it,” Tiafoe said. “Putting [us] on a pedestal, making [us] feel known. It’s not easy to [be known] on the Tour with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, unless you go for an outstanding run, which is not easy to take out these top guys.
“I really like coming to Milan. In the next couple of years, I will probably just come and just hang out. I love the city that much. I always love coming back. The fans are great here. I feel very loved here, practising and stuff. Little kids seem to like me quite a lot here. That means a lot to me.”
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Tiafoe’s inspired runs, along with his chest-thumping celebration and emotional on-court interview after reaching the last eight in Melbourne, increased his profile significantly. But the 21-year-old admitted to struggling with the pressure that can come with those results. Tiafoe said after his win on Thursday over Swede Mikael Ymer that “the second half of this season has been rough for me,” but he appears to have turned a corner this week.
“I definitely had higher expectations for myself this year, but it's a big learning year for me. I had to deal with a lot of expectations. I had to deal with being more recognised,” Tiafoe said. "So it was tough. I definitely felt like I was going to have more results on a regular basis. It didn't happen, but all of this is going to pan out for me next year and for years to come.”
For now, his focus is on defeating good friend De Minaur and taking the title in Milan. The American is able to seamlessly separate the personal from the professional, remaining close with some of his biggest rivals on Tour. But when he and De Minaur walk on court, Tiafoe said they’ll have no problem putting their friendship aside.
"You want to respect their time. When you’re playing them, it’s still a job,” Tiafoe said. “There’s money on the line, opportunity… For those two or three hours, we’ll compete, but then I promise you we’ll be friends after. Some people take [losing] personally, but I’ll talk to you in the locker room 10 minutes later.
”I'm really good friends with most of the guys here, so it's all good blood. We battle and then, after that, go and chill. I think that makes good rivalries and good relationships. We have enough respect for each other that no matter what happens, we're going to be there for each other.”