PARIS (AP) — When Frances Tiafoe steps on Court 5 at the French Open for his Grand Slam main-draw debut Monday, he’ll be the first 17-year-old American man to play in the clay-court tournament since 1989, when a couple of guys named Pete Sampras and Michael Chang did it.
Chang beat Sampras in the second round that year, then went on to become the youngest champion in Roland Garros history.
Tiafoe, who turned pro last month and is represented by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports, earned a wild-card entry from the U.S. Tennis Association by finishing with the best results at three events played on green clay on the Challenger tour.
It won’t be his first time on the red clay in Paris. In 2014, as the top-seeded boy, he lost in the French Open junior tournament’s second round.
“I had a lot of pressure on me,” Tiafoe, from College Park, Maryland, said recently. “Now I’m going in with no pressure. Just going to have a lot of fun, just play my game. Going to soak it all in.”
Steve Johnson, a 25-year-old from Redondo Beach, California, has hit with Tiafoe in practice and came away impressed.
“He’s very talented. He’s hard working, which is what you would like to see. You kind of see, maybe, sometimes the good juniors are a little lazy. A little kind of like, ‘I’m talented; it’s fine; it’s no big deal.’ But he puts in the work. I’ve seen him out on the practice courts and in the gym, which is great,” said Johnson, who surprised 26th-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 3-6, 6-3 at the French Open on Sunday. “If (Monday) doesn’t go his way, it’s not going to be his last Grand Slam, I’ll tell that you much.”
Here’s a look at what else is happening at the French Open on Monday:
Andy Murray has won Grand Slam titles on a grass court at Wimbledon and a hard court at the U.S. Open, and now his clay-court game is in peak form. Murray takes a 10-match clay winning streak — including the first two titles of his career on the slow surface — into his first-round match against Facundo Arguello of Argentina. Murray was a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2011 and last year.
VENUS VS. SLOANE
Sloane Stephens’ Grand Slam breakthrough came as a teenager at the 2013 Australian Open, when she beat Serena Williams en route to the semifinals. Now Stephens faces Williams’ older sister, seven-time major champion Venus, for the first time. Stephens made it to the fourth round in Paris each of the past three years. Venus Williams, seeded 15th, is 34, making her the oldest player in the draw. She lost the 2002 French Open final to Serena.
SHARAPOVA STARTS DEFENSE
Defending champion Maria Sharapova has won two of the past three French Open titles, and was the runner-up in between. She enters her first-round match against Kaia Kanepi on Court Philippe Chatrier with 62 victories in her past 68 contests on clay.
A pair of up-and-coming Australian men, 29th-seeded Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, are in action. The 20-year-old Kyrgios, who beat Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year and Roger Federer at Madrid this month, faces Denis Istomin. The 19-year-old Kokkinakis meets Nikoloz Basilashvili.
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