Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman met Frances Tiafoe in 2013 at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland, when he was just 14 years old. Tiafoe, the son of a janitor who had emigrated from Sierra Leone to the U.S., was a budding junior tennis star.
His father, Constant Tiafoe, is the head of maintenance the Junior Tennis Champions Center, which meant that Frances first picked up a tennis racket at the tender age of three. Frances has matured into a promising professional among the top young U.S. men’s players.
“He’s got raw talent and enormous power,” commented Ackman, a serious amateur tennis player who has played doubles with Tiafoe. “He’s got incredible potential. A huge game.”
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Of note, Ackman is the founder of hedge fund firm Pershing Square Capital Management LP. Various sources list Ackman’s net worth at north of $2.5 billion.
Playing in first U.S. Open
Frances Tiafoe has won a wild card into the 2015 U.S. Open by coming in first the U.S. national under-18 boys’ tournament, and will play in New York on Tuesday with his mentor in the audience.
More on Ackman protege Frances Tiafoe
Sources say that Ackman provided funds for several years so that Tiafoe could travel the junior tennis tournament circuit and work with top trainers. Tiafoe turned professional this spring, and became the first tennis player to sign with Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.
Tiafoe is very grateful and makes it clear Ackman’s support was critical to his development as an amateur. “He’s done so well in life, and the fact that he wants to give back to young athletes like me, it’s unbelievable,” Tiafoe explained in an interview earlier this week at the National Tennis Center in New York.
Ackman noted in a phone interview that he was impressed by Tiafoe’s “pretty incredible life story” as well as his talent, would not comment on how much financial support he had provided over the last three years. Of interest, Ackman’s donations were given to the JTCC (a nonprofit tennis center founded 15 years ago by hedge fund manager Kenneth Brody), but earmarked for Tiafoe’s training and travel expenses.
The Tiafoe family lived in a room at the JTCC, so Frances and his twin brother Franklin had access to the tennis courts in their free time.
“He’s done so much for me,” Tiafoe commented about Ackman. “He gave me a chance to play around the world and not worry about any finances at all. “You know, tennis is a very expensive sport, and my family is not wealthy enough to do that. With his contribution, I’ve been able to do that.”