Tiafoe making good on promises at Wimbledon

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LONDON — Frances Tiafoe remembers promising to his parents before he was even a teenager that tennis would change their lives.

As his talent for the sport became obvious at the tennis center in Maryland where his father was a maintenance worker – and lived with his family in an office that served as their apartment – Tiafoe vowed he would use his abilities to better their circumstances.

“I told them when I was about 11, 12 years old, this is what it was going to be,” Tiafoe said Tuesday, sitting in an interview room at the All England Club after a first-round win at Wimbledon. “You guys just have to sit back and wait for it.”

Wait no longer. The now 20-year-old Tiafoe is on the verge of breaking into the top 50 in the rankings. He already has reached a level where his income from the sport has taken his parents a long way from the struggles they faced after arriving in the United States as immigrants from Sierra Leone.

“I’ve still got a long way to go,” Tiafoe said. “But I said, `Look, I’m going to change everybody’s life, I’m going to buy you all a house. I’m going to do X, Y, and Z, and everybody’s going to live nice at the end of my career and no one is going to have to worry about anything.’ `’

If he keeps playing the way he did against Fernando Verdasco – a former Wimbledon quarterfinalist seeded 30th – they won’t have to worry at all.

Tiafoe beat Verdasco 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3 after outplaying the Spaniard on the key points. The American saved 13 of the 15 break points he faced while converting two of the only four he had himself.

“I played to win when it was time to step up,” he said.

Tiafoe has been stepping up all his life. Even though his parents weren’t as sure as he was that tennis was the answer.

“My dad always believed me,” Tiafoe said. “My mom, she wanted me to go to college, (and said) you can do whatever you want after that. I said, it’s not going to go down like that. … There was one plan and that was it. There was no Plan B because that just distracts you from Plan A. I had a vision, and I wanted it every day. I dream chased every day. There was always a purpose to what I was doing on the court, because it’s not about me at the end of the day. Because my parents, they sacrificed for me and my brother, and I had to do it for them.”

His mom, Alphina, didn’t seem unhappy about her son’s career choice as she watched him play on Court 11 on Tuesday.

“That’s my little boy,” she shouted as he wrapped up the victory.

French players get life bans for fixing

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LONDON — Two low-ranked French players were banned from the sport for life after being found guilty of match-fixing by a hearing officer.

Jules Okala, a 25-year-old with a career-best ATP ranking of No. 338, and Mick Lescure, a 29-year-old with a top ranking of No. 487, “admitted multiple charges,” the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced.

Neither player is allowed to compete at – or even attend – any sanctioned event again.

Okala was found guilty of seven match-fixing charges and fined $15,000 in addition to the permanent suspension. Lescure was found guilty of eight charges and fined $40,000 on top of the ban.

The punishments come after both players were involved in law enforcement investigations in France and Belgium, according to the sport’s integrity agency.

Ash Barty wins Australia’s top sports award for second time

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Ash Barty’s Australian Open singles title in January was enough to ensure the former top-ranked player won Australia’s most prestigious annual sports award — despite retiring from the game less than two months later.

Barty has been given The Don Award, named after its most accomplished and famous cricketer Don Bradman.

Barty shocked the tennis world in March when she announced her retirement at the age of 25. The three-time major winner was the No. 1-ranked female player at the time of her retirement decision.

The Sport Australia Hall of Fame’s Don Award is given to an athlete or a team “which has provided the most inspiration to the country through performance and example in the past year.”

Barty (2019, 2022) joins Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sally Pearson (2012, 2014) and Olympic champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker (2008, 2009) as a multiple winner of the award.

Barty said she had decided before the Australian Open started that it would be her last major tournament.

“This year was certainly my most enjoyable Australian Open . . . because it felt free,” Barty said in a television interview. “I played without consequence, I played like a little kid. In my eyes, there was no pressure. It was just about me trying to redeem myself, in a way, and playing how I’d always wanted to play – go out there and play like the kid that fell in love with sport.”

Barty said she has no plans to return to tennis.

“In my mind there was never going to be a perfect ending, but it was my perfect ending,” Barty said of her retirement. “It was never about finishing on a win or on a really high emotional feeling. It was just about collectively, I felt it was right.

“Now (that decision) has led to nine months of just an incredible life off the court. It’s been amazing.”

Barty married her long-time partner Garry Kissick in late July. She also golfs frequently and is reported to be playing off a handicap of low single figures.