Jack Sock looks on during a practice session ahead of the 2022 Laver Cup on Sept. 20, 2022 in London.
Frances Tiafoe thrust himself into the global tennis spotlight earlier this month when he made his first run to a Grand Slam singles semifinal at the U.S. Open.
The 24-year-old from Maryland is back in the world’s attention this week, albeit for slightly different reasons.
Tiafoe and fellow U.S. Olympian Jack Sock are set to meet two of the sport’s all-time legends, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, in a doubles match Friday at the Laver Cup, a men’s team tournament being held in London.
And oh by the way, it just happens to be Federer’s last competitive tournament.
The 41-year-old Swiss, owner of 20 Grand Slam singles titles, announced last week that he is retiring. It’s only fitting that he wrap up his career playing alongside his longtime rival Nadal, of Spain, who holds a men’s record 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
“Yeah, I’m just excited to play two up-and-comers tomorrow,” Tiafoe deadpanned.
Tiafoe and Sock are among six players on Team World, which is captained by American tennis great John McEnroe. Bjorn Borg is at the helm of Team Europe, which has, let’s say, just a little bit of star power. In addition to Federer and Nadal, Team Europe also includes 21-time Grand Slam champ Novak Djokovic of Serbia plus Andy Murray of Great Britain, giving Bjorg the sport’s “big four” that collectively dominated the last two decades of men’s tennis.
With Federer’s impending retirement, much of the attention this weekend will be on his match Friday.
“It’s going to be iconic to be a part of that,” Tiafoe said. “Both guys are absolute legends. And obviously, (it’s) Roger’s last dance.”
While Team Europe boasts four of the best players ever, the Laver Cup is also a showcase of some of the sport’s top young stars, including U.S. Open runner-up Casper Ruud of Norway, Taylor Fritz of the U.S. and, of course, Tiafoe.
The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, he got his start hitting balls while his dad worked as a maintenance worker at a local tennis center. Officials there noticed his talent, and he was soon on his way to stardom. Tiafoe made his Olympic debut last year in Tokyo, and earlier this month became the first American man to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2006.
The Laver Cup continues through Sunday with doubles and singles matches. Lineups for the final two days will be announced later.
“Obviously tomorrow night is going to be a beyond-iconic evening, doubles match,” said Sock, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in men’s doubles. “I'm just stoked to be a part of it with my guy Foe, you know, next to me.”