There are no spectators, apart from a handful of coaches, wives and on-the-prowl agents, when 16-year-old Francis Tiafoe takes the court. There is no scoreboard, nor officials to call the lines as the country's best junior boy warms up.
The Futures Circuit is the lowest rung on the ladder of professional tennis, a minor league proving ground where promising amateurs, tapped-out pros and maxed-out journeymen claw over ranking points and $10,000 purses. It is a precipitous step down from the emerald-green splendor of Wimbledon and pampered environs of champions such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Then again, the $75-a-night oceanfront motel where Tiafoe and the other players are staying is a considerable step up from the spare room at College Park's Junior Tennis Champions Center. That's where Tiafoe often lived as a child, sleeping on a massage table with his twin brother when their father, who worked there as the maintenance man, had no other place to call home.
In a sporting narrative as improbable as that of Venus and Serena Williams, Tiafoe, the son of immigrants from the West African nation of Sierra Leone, has emerged as the nation's most buzzed about tennis prodigy.
[Photo Credit: Rick Wilson]