Frances Tiafoe hopes he can “become a legendary player” after emerging from a “dark place” last year.
The American had a disappointing start to the 2020 season as he suffered three first-round exits in a row and dropped more than 30 places in the rankings.
But after the five-month suspension of the season due to the Covid-19 pandemic he enjoyed his best run at the US Open – reaching the fourth round – and finished with a run to the semi-finals in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.
'A bit of a bromance' - Kyrgios jokes about playing doubles with Djokovic
“The pandemic was probably the best thing that happened to me in my career, if we are going to be frank. I was in a dark place pre-pandemic,” Tiafoe, who turned 23 on January 20, told ATPTour.com.
My ranking took a serious hit, obviously losing the quarter-finals [points] in Melbourne. It kind of saved me, because I had Miami coming up where I was defending quarter-finals [points].
“I looked at the guy in the mirror [and asked], ‘Why are you here? What are the things you need to change and what are the things you need to keep building on?’ It helped me a lot. There were a lot of deep conversations with my guys and I wouldn’t have made it to the second week of the US Open without that.
- In defence of Djokovic: Why quarantine criticism is unjust
- Six players we can't wait to see return in 2021
- Are Australian Open preparations unfair?
“It was like, ‘Frances Tiafoe. What does that look like post-pandemic? What do you want to change? Are you going to be the same guy or are you going to add some things and change some things?’ I just wanted to be a different guy.”
Tiafoe, who started his 2021 season with a run to the Delray Beach Open quarter-finals, is the seventh-highest ranked American in the world.
He started working with former world No 6 Wayne Ferreira last year and says he is determined to achieve more success in his career.
“I definitely understand that you are going to be one of the guys who is going to have fun every week and everyone loves or you are going to be a guy that everyone loves, but [also someone] they are going to see going deep in tournaments with the fans really embracing you,” said Tiafoe.
Top shots from 2020 Australian Open
I think with me doing that, obviously with the Australia run, fans really embraced that and really got behind that. Instead of being the guy that has fun, I am trying to be the guy who is going to be legendary.
“[My motivation] is at a pretty high scale. I'm ready to do a lot of great things in 2021."
Reflecting on how his approach to tennis has changed, he added: “When you first come on Tour, you are Bugs Bunny [and] just excited to be out there.
“You want to play everybody, you want to go to all the tournaments. I am young, but I feel like a veteran. I have been playing on Tour for a while, I am going on 23 now and now I know everybody. I have definitely changed a lot, it doesn’t maybe seem that way but I have definitely changed a lot.”
Tiafoe is set to compete at the Great Ocean Road Open – an ATP 250 event held alongside the ATP Cup from January 31 to February 6 - ahead of the Australian Open.
He was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open last year after making the quarter-finals in 2019.
Tennis Australia ‘deeply regret’ impact of Djokovic saga on players, announce review
Australian Open 2022: How to watch, schedule, start times and live stream details