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“This wasn’t a joke!” – Frances Tiafoe on Why Serena just hits different

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Remember back in 2019, when Serena Williams and Roger Federer competed against each other in a highly anticipated Hopman Cup battle in Perth?

The memorable encounter ended in victory for Federer and Belinda Bencic, who went on to take the title, but it was not without resistance from Serena Williams, who furiously fought to get the better of the Swiss legend Federer.

Frances Tiafoe, honored and thrilled to get the call alongside his longtime idol, will never forget what it was like playing next to Serena in that crazy atmosphere.

He says defeat, even at the hands of one of the best men’s players – and servers – of all-time was not something that the 23-time Slam champion wanted to accept.

Tiafoe talked about the experience of playing alongside vaunted Serena while on a UTS sponsored dinner with compatriots Chris Eubanks and Ben Shelton.

All three talked with big reverance the icon Serena, whose name came up innocently in conversation.

“You talk about an intimidation factor? I don’t think anybody has it like Serena,” Eubanks said. “Where they walk in a room and all of a sudden everybody’s like uh-oh.” 

Tiafoe was quick to expand on the topic of Serena, giving us a close-up picture of her intensity and fire.

“I know the opponents [are intimidated], because I was,” says Tiafoe. “The best Serena story I got, I’m playing mixed with her, we’re playing against Federer and Bencic at Hopman Cup. I had never seen an atmosphere like this. Anything that happened people were going crazy.”

Tiafoe recalls that Federer was on fire that, and it just made Williams want to compete even harder.

“Federer was aceing her left, right and center. She can’t read Federer’s serve – she gets aced again. We go sit down and she’s like ‘Ahhhh, I don’t get it. We can’t lose this. He’s not better than me, I have 23 [Grand Slam titles] and he has 20.

“That’s when I was like… I get it now. You have to be different. She was saying that, she didn’t laugh, this wasn’t a joke.” 

“This is crazy to me,” a laughing Shelton says. 

The moral of the story? Serena was one of the fiercest fighters to ever pick up a tennis racquet. And she ALWAYS played with a chip on her shoulder, win or lose.

“There’s no one that did their job better at anything, than Serena,” Tiafoe concludes. “Once she said that to me I was like (rolls eyes). That’s that mindset, where it’s just like ‘I’m the best’. When she said I was just like, oh sh**.” 

Want to continue being entertained by the stories of Tiafoe, Shelton and Eubanks? We’ve got a full video of a special get together that the trio shared last month in Paris.

You can watch it here, or better yet, come to Los Angeles this summer to see Tiafoe and Shelton join a star-studded cast at UTS.

UTS Los Angeles will be held from July 21 to 23 at the Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, on the Campus of California State University, Dominguez Hills in a 7,200 seat stadium. It marks a return of professional tennis to the greater Los Angeles area, which hosted an ATP event from 1968 to 2012. You can purchase tickets here.

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Frances Tiafoe