Francis Tiafoe and A.J. Catanzariti train together at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., so the two had a great understanding of the others game when they met in the Florida Open boys 18s final at The Landings on Monday.
Top-seeded Tiafoe outlasted his training partner in three sets, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1, for his first Florida Open title.
It was their second meeting in tournament play. They first matched up in Oct. 2012 at a Grade 4 ITF final in Wichita Falls, Texas. Catanzariti won that match, 6-2, 6-4.
“He messed me up man,” Tiafoe said of their first matchup. “We were both in the finals at ITF in Grade 4 and we both had a good week.
“We came into the match and it was freezing cold. We were both tight. He handled the nerves better than I did. He played well. Today he had chances to win and I squeezed it out.”
Catanzariti , 17, won the first set, but the two traded games the second with neither earning more than a one-point lead. Cantazariti held match point at 5-4 before Tiafoe won the next three games to force a third-set tiebreaker.
“You can’t really over-think it. You kind of just want to go out and have fun and compete,” Tiafoe said. “The only thing you have control of is trying hard and competing for every point.
“If he’s playing well, he’s playing well and there’s nothing that you can do. I’m pretty experienced so I know how to handle myself.”
After a ten-minute break between the second and third sets, Tiafoe appeared to have more energy.
“I played the same. He just stepped it up,” Catanzariti said. “He hit the shots he needed to hit.”
Neither complained about fatigue after the two-hour match in which temperatures reached the lower 90’s. The training they receive at the Junior Tennis Champions Center prepared them for the long match.
“It’s pretty tough training at JTCC. It’s pretty brutal up there,” Tiafoe said. “We do a lot of running and side-to-side movement, especially on clay.”
The Florida Open was Tiafoe’s first regional event this summer. He will next compete at the National Clay Court Championships on July 14-20 in Boca Raton in the boys 16s singles.
He will play in the USTA National Championships in Kalamazoo, Mich., next month with the hope of winning a boys 16s singles title.
Tiafoe (pronounced Tee-ah-foe) is ranked 11th in the country in boys 16s clay court according to USTA and has been touted as possibly the next American to bring a major title back to the U.S. Andy Roddick was the last American to win a major event, with his 2003 U.S. Open victory.
But at just 15 the decision to go pro isn’t looming for the10th grader who is home schooled in College Park throughthe accredited online private school Laurel Springs based out of Ojai, Calif.
“I really want to play pro tennis but I don’t know yet. My mom wants me to go to college and my dad wants me to go pro. I try not to think about it but I want to be a pro. We’ll see when that time comes, however I’m playing then we’ll see.”