‘Rafael Nadal in Washington – it’s incredible,’ young gun recalls

Raised in Hyattsville, Frances Tiafoe has always been related to the American capital. Frances made his ATP Tour debut in Washington 2014 at 16, losing to Evgeny Donskoy in straight sets after a solid effort. Tiafoe scored only two victories in his first five trips to Washington, and he will try to change that this week as the top-30 player and the 10th seed. Last year, Frances experienced an early loss to world no. 130 Jenson Brooksby in two tight sets, hoping for a better run in the upcoming days. Last year, Rafael Nadal made a surprising decision to take a wild card in Washington and debut in the American capital. Tiafoe watched Juan Martin del Potro and James Blake competing at the City Open when he was younger. Twelve months ago, he had a chance to share the draw at one of his favorite events with a 20-time Major winner. He felt excited about having a player of Nadal’s caliber in the field, calling it an unbelievable experience. Rafa decided to take the Washington wild card after skipping Wimbledon and the Olympic Games.

Frances Tiafoe praised Rafael Nadal in Washington last year.

The Spaniard experienced a foot injury in the Roland Garros semi-final against Novak Djokovic. He gave his best to stay in touch despite an evident struggle, falling in four sets after over four hours. Nadal could not train for three weeks, and there was no chance for him to play in London or Tokyo. Rafa returned to the practice court at home in Mallorca in July and opted to enter Washington to see where his body stood at that moment. As it turned out, Nadal could not deal with the pain in his foot, playing two challenging encounters and deciding to wrap up the season and focus on 2022. Rafa toppled Jack Sock after over three hours and fell to Lloyd Harris in the next match despite giving his best. Nadal used the following months to recover and made a fresh start in the current season, winning two Major titles and leading the ATP Race.

“You are like, ‘Wow, I can maybe play with these guys one day, even be in the same locker room as these guys.’ I think those experiences helped me to be the man I’m today. It’s unbelievable that Rafa came here to D.C. Having a player of his caliber here is pretty legendary,” Frances Tiafoe said.