When Frances Tiafoe first began his professional career, Washington Wizards General Manager Tommy Shepard invited him into the NBA team’s locker room after a game. Tiafoe introduced himself to several players in the room, including star Bradley Beal, who is now a three-time NBA All Star.
“I’ve always kept track with him ever since then and just been happy with his success and he’s continued to come to games and shown his support,” Beal told ATPTour.com. “It’s kind of crazy to see the success he’s had and seen his journey and being a guy from D.C., that’s even [made it] much bigger.”
Beal has tried to show his own support for Tiafoe at this US Open, where he has been traveling back and forth from Washington to New York while he prepares for his season to watch Tiafoe compete in the US Open. The 29-year-old has watched his friend defeat 22-time major winner Rafael Nadal and ninth seed Andrey Rublev.
“That’s just kind of how D.C. is. D.C. athletes, we have that special relationship with each other. We always reach out to each other and check in. We support one another. We understand this is a true sports town and so we try to support each other’s teams and each other’s endeavours whether it’s on or off the field or court or whatever it is that we do,” Beal said. “It’s always love shown. It’s no different than that. He’s always been awesome in that regard. He’s always shown love to me, to what we’ve done and has always shown his support so this is me kind of paying it back to him.”
Cameras have caught Beal getting out of his chair after big points to support Tiafoe as he has battled into his first Grand Slam semi-final. He has appreciated the energy the 22nd seed has brought to the court, which has earned Tiafoe the full backing of the New York crowd.
.@RealDealBeal23 is loving every minute of this match.@FTiafoe | @WashWizards | #USOpen pic.twitter.com/bp32cWxsge
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2022
“He’s hungry. I think people gravitate towards him because of his passion. It’s all genuine love and just his true character. He doesn’t force anything, it’s just who he is,” Beal said. “He always has a smile on his face, he’s always positive. He’s always encouraging. That’s always someone you want to surround yourself with. He’s kind of a magnet to a lot of people.
“And then his play, he plays with such grace and passion and everybody feeds off of that. He’s a crowd-pleaser in so many ways. People love to watch him play. He’s energetic. I love the fact that he’s always focussed. He has fun with it and I think that’s the most important thing.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Stier/Getty Images
During Tiafoe’s match against Rublev, Beal wore a shirt that said ‘Why Not?’, which is similar to a rubber bracelet ‘Big Foe’ wears that reads ‘Why Not Me?’ They share a mindset and Beal has enjoyed seeing his friend’s hard work pay off in person.
“Especially being a pro athlete myself, I have a huge respect for all athletes and what they do, but to be able to see it up close and personal, it’s a different ballgame. To be able to see him in his element and to see him in his zone, it’s very similar. We have those same moments in our game, in our sport as well,” Beal said. “But to acknowledge it and be able to see it in a different realm, there’s nothing like it. You can do nothing but respect it and support it.”
On the biggest stages, some athletes are so locked in that they do not fully enjoy the atmosphere. Not only does Tiafoe do so — he embraces it and uses it to his advantage, riding the crowd’s support in many matches. Beal has liked seeing Tiafoe focus and have fun at the same time.
“It’s encouraging for sure, it’s definitely motivating in so many ways to be able to see that. It just motivates me to continue to work hard, to continue to push and continue to be better,” Beal said. “To see his journey and to see who he’s become and the tennis player he is right before our eyes has been amazing.”
Beal has watched tennis on television, but Tiafoe’s win against Nadal was his first experience taking it in live. He plans to watch more matches in person moving forward, as he has gained further appreciation for the sport.
“The intensity of it [has stood out]. It is a whole new ball game. The shape that these athletes are in and you have to be in, you have to basically be prepared to play one-on-one for five hours. That’s a mind game in so many ways. It’s a physical beatdown, but with a mental game [within] the game I would say,” Beal said. “It is exemplary. It is definitely a sight to see as a pro. To get it through a different lens has been awesome.”
Will Beal make it to Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday to continue supporting Tiafoe as he tries to make his first Grand Slam final? The basketball star is happy to do anything he can to support his friend.
“Everybody’s been saying like I don’t have a choice now!” Beal said, cracking a laugh. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you see me at the match.”