Two promising American junior players will once again be featured as part of the BNP Paribas Showdown at Madison Square Garden, as a pair of 16-year-olds, Francis Taifoe and Reilly Opelka, will take part in World Tennis Day on March 3. These juniors will play prior to Andy Murray taking on Novak Djokovic and the Bryan Brothers facing the McEnroe Brothers in the Seventh Annual BNP Paribas Showdown.
“We are very happy to have Francis and Reilly playing at the BNP Paribas Showdown this year,” said Jerry Solomon, president of StarGames Inc. “So much of our mission with World Tennis Day is to encourage young players to pick up a racquet, so it’s important to have the opportunity to showcase junior players who are on their way to a future in the pro game. And it provides these young players an invaluable experience to compete in an arena like Madison Square Garden.”
Tiafoe is currently the eighth-ranked junior player in the world. In 2013, he claimed his biggest title when he won the Orange Bowl, a tournament with a roster of former champions that includes Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. He also helped the U.S. win a Gold Medal in World Junior Tennis, a 14-and-under team competition. Tiafoe trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., a USTA-Certified Regional Training Center. Tiafoe began training at the center when coming to work with his father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, who is a custodian there.
Opelka hails from Palm Coast, Fla., but now trains at the USTA Regional Training Center in Boca Raton, Fla. He finished 2013 with third round showings at the Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Championships as well as the US Open junior tournament. Opelka stands 6-foot-8.
This will be the fourth time juniors have been included in the BNP Paribas Showdown. The previous junior matches have been:
►2008: Denis Kudla (15 years old) vs. Junior Ore (15)
►2009: Sloane Stephens (15) vs. Gail Brodsky (17)
►2010: Nicole Gibbs (16) vs. Sachia Vickery (14)
Several of those players have gone on to continued success. Stephens is currently ranked 18th in the world and broke onto the pro scene in 2013 with a run to the Australian Open semifinals. Kudla has reached a pair of ATP quarterfinals in his career, and broke into the Top 100 for the first time late 2013. Gibbs won back-to-back NCAA individual championships while playing at Stanford.