The 2022 US Open runner-up talks with Boardroom about his new sponsor partnership, where he gets his motivation & the importance of tending to one’s mental health.
After a solid end to last year’s tennis season, Frances Tiafoe has easily maintained his form into this year’s hectic campaign.
Entering Saturday’s Round of 64 match against Japanese opponent Yosuke Watanuki at the Miami Open, the Hyattsville, Md., native sits at No. 14, his highest ranking since turning pro in 2015. As more become familiar with the child of Sierra Leonean immigrants, so does his sponsorship stock. Right now, the 25-year-old has deals with Nike, Yonex, Better Help, and most recently, Stella Artois. This week, the Belgian beer brand made its return to the sport as the official beer sponsor of the Miami Open.
As Stella’s newest partner, Tiafoe will be featured on Stella Artois’ custom packaging and promotional materials throughout the year. Tiafoe and Stella plan to also develop a unique platform that aims to give tennis a new perspective, reclaiming the fun and modern soul of the sport that arguably caters to a more mature audience.
Tiafoe chatted with Boardroom about why he decided Stella is his preferred beer of choice, gaining motivation from his parents, and the importance of being honest about mental health.
VINCIANE NGOMSI: Why did you decide to partner with Stella, and how do you go about vetting your partnerships and sponsorship deals?
FRANCES TIAFOE: Well, I’m honored because Stella wanted to partner with me. And I was super excited to sign on with them. They’ve been great for so many years and have been responsible for so many great events. It’s obviously fun to be a part of something like that. But they’re so much more than beer. They want to build an acute partnership that follows what I do on the court and what I dream off it. I’m honored they chose me and glad we can make it happen.
VN: Your skills on the court and penchant for winning have attracted the attention of sports’ best, like LeBron James. Can you explain the importance of his and other people’s endorsement and how that reminds you not to remain complacent?
FT: Yea, I think I always want a taste of more. At this point, I’m in rooms I dreamed of being in when I was younger and playing on courts that never seemed possible. Now that I have a taste of this popularity and what have you, it only makes me want it that much more. The opportunities and partnerships that I’ve had, you want more of those and I want to see how far I can go with this thing. I’m in a really curious period in my life and I want to keep seeing how far I can go on and off the court. I don’t want to let it go.
VN: Most aspire to be, but not everyone will reach Frances Tiafoe’s level. What do you have to say to African children who look up to you as an inspiration, but aren’t as confident in their ability to play top-level tennis?
FT: I’ve had my eye on one thing I’ve wanted to do my whole life, and that’s been to play tennis and take care of my family. Having that support from my parents is key, too. They were always there and had my back no matter what I wanted to do. As a kid, you’re going to have crazy aspirations but there will be some people who will try and downplay them. Anytime they say, ‘No, man, you can’t do that,’ or ‘That’s crazy,’ that’s when you know, you have a dream that’s big enough to really go for it. That was something that was super huge to me as a kid and I’m happy I’m living it right now.
VN: Did your parents ever share any poignant pieces of advice for you, how do you internalize those words in everything you do on and off the court?
FT: You know, they always told me, ‘Grab any opportunities with two hands. You can’t play with it.’ We might only get just one chance, and that remains deep to this day. I’m not trying to be like anyone else, nor do I want to fit in. I’m trying to just be the best version of me.
Growing up, people would crack jokes and make fun of me because they had things I didn’t. My parent’s always said, ‘You’ll be laughing at the end.’ And right now, I would definitely say I got the last laugh. I enjoy what I’m doing and I get to travel the world while taking care of my family. This is all I’ve wanted to do. Someone’s always going to make up stories or assumptions about me, but it is what it is.
VN: Mental health remains extremely important to you, and you’ve talked so openly about it through your work with Better Help. Was that topic something that you always planned to candidly discuss, or does speaking about your struggles help you become more relatable?
FT: You hit it on the head. I would say I am relatable. I didn’t grow up with much, but now I’m in a position where everyone thinks you have all the answers because you’re winning. But I’m still human at the end of the day. I’m going to make mistakes and I can’t be perfect for anyone. When you win some matches, people suddenly think you can do no wrong. But that’s not the reality. I felt compelled to speak on this and show people no one’s too big to go through their issues and that life isn’t easy for anybody.
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