For Frances Tiafoe focusing on his game and mental health go hand-in-hand.
After a historic run at the U.S. Open, the 24-year-old tennis star is on a mission to become the best version of himself. When he's not on the court working on his game, he's working on himself, and one of his favorite forms of self-improvement is therapy.
In an exclusive interview with iHeartMedia's Black Information Network, Tiafoe opened up about his new partnership with BetterHelp, the world's largest therapy platform, which is providing up to $3 million worth of free mental health therapy to people in need with the goal of shining a light on the importance of mental health.
"Mental health is so important," he told BIN. "A lot of times growing up, you hear people saying, 'Shake it off,' and 'Man up,' and that [leads to] holding things in. I'm glad that [BetterHelp] is a safe haven where you can go and actually get help, speak out on your problems, and be able to feel vulnerable."
The connection between Tiafoe's mental health and performance is one of the many reasons why he "just loves therapy." The tennis star shared that being able to "speak about actual things I'm going through, problems I'm having, understanding why I do things, why I react in a certain way to things, and where it's all stemming from" has made him a better athlete and overall person.
"I love having a place where I know I can go to and not be judged," he added.
As a Black professional athlete, Tiafoe has found that prioritizing his mental health has been crucial to his success on and off the court. As he noted, Tiafoe brought his best self to this month's U.S. Open, where he made quite the splash, becoming the first American man to reach a U.S. Open semifinal in 16 years; the youngest American man to make it to the U.S. Open semifinalist since Andy Roddick in 2016, and the first Black American man to reach a U.S. Open semifinal since Arthur Ashe in 1972.
Keep scrolling to read our Q&A with Tiafoe about his U.S. Open run.
Let's chat about your U.S. Open run and what’s to come for you. While it’s not the first time you’ve killed it during a tournament, this run seemed so special. Did the tournament feel different or special from the start to you?
Yeah! I think seeing Serena [Williams'] final matches made me feel like, 'Okay, who's, at the top now? Who's gonna be that guy?' And I just felt like an instant lift. I felt like I showed something to myself and everybody else that I can still play tennis at a high level. I have a lot more to give to the game so it felt like that switched in my mind and that really helped me.
What did it mean to you to have former First Lady Michelle Obama at your last match?
That was nuts! I was at a loss for words. [Given] how much I look up to her and former president Barack Obama, to see her on one of the biggest days of my life and seeing her front row, and her wanting to be there for me, it says a lot. It's an extreme blessing.
For those who watched you play at the U.S. Open, I would say the consensus was that it looked like you were having so much fun out there — you were dancing, doing the millyrock at times. Were you having as much fun as it seemed and how would describe your style of play this tournament?
I would say I definitely had fun, but I was still a competitor — I was being me. I was getting the crowd pretty into it. I was playing my heart out, but at the same time, I was relaxed. I was being me. I was really enjoying myself and just taking it in. I think a lot of people think that tennis is a game that's about being super quiet, and that's just not me. And I think not taking anything for granted and understanding that playing in a stadium with 22,000 people watching is a huge honor.
What would you say was your biggest takeaway from the tournament?
I think my biggest takeaway was to believe in yourself before anyone else does. No one's gonna really believe in you until you've actually already done it. And I think a lot of times when you're so close to [your dream], you just can't give up. A lot of times in this generation now, many get so close to getting to that next step, but they [encounter] failure after failure, and they kinda just give up. [Instead], that could've been the actual moment where they kept going. It's about being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I proved to myself and the world that I truly could do anything and I have the potential of winning Grand Slam and being back at the US Open again.
So, what's next for you?
I wanna end the year strong. See where that goes. But I'm excited for 2023. I wanna try and win a Grand Slam. I think that's definitely a goal. And to also be in the top 10, and be a contender in all our big events, week in, week out. I'm trying to play consistently great tennis and elevate myself as a son, as a brother, as a human being every day, and as a tennis player.
This interview was edited for clarity.