Frances Tiafoe on turning pro, Jay Z and living up to the hype

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It's as if Frances Tiafoe's tennis life is constantly living on speed dial.

The 17-year-old American, a standout in the juniors just a year ago, shot up the ATP rankings this year to become the youngest player in the top 300. He moved from No. 1,136 at the season's beginning to his current No. 293 ranking -- an 843-spot jump.

After success at a number of Future events in March, Tiafoe announced he was turning pro in April by becoming the first tennis player to sign with Roc Nation Sports, a division of music superstar Jay-Z's Roc Nation agency.

Tiafoe has put together an 18-4 winning record at Future-level tournaments this year, winning Bakersfield and reaching two other finals. His showing at three recent Challenger events -- a quarterfinal, semifinal and final -- resulted in his earning a wild card into the upcoming French Open main draw.

ESPN.com had the opportunity to catch up with Tiafoe this week to talk about the exciting new changes.

Harwitt: How does it feel to have the biggest rankings jump of any player in the top 300 this year?

Tiafoe: That is a tremendous jump and I'm playing the best tennis of my life. But look, there's still a long way to go. I'm just taking it one day at a time and I'm going to keep building along with the confidence I have. But I'm going to keep humble and just keep going. I've always wanted to be at the top of the game. That was my goal when I was young. I want to be one of the best players.

Harwitt: How was the transition from the juniors to the pros? What did you learn in the juniors to help you move forward in the pros?

Tiafoe: You play the juniors, you're losing money, in the Challengers you're breaking even and on the ATP you're making money. It's all a process. I'm not really worried about what I'm making now. I'm just going to keep competing and keep building and play for the love of the game. The pros, everyone is kind of trying to get their ranking up and it's definitely tougher. My goal is to end the year in the top 100.

Playing the juniors, I was able to be at the Grand Slam scene and see what they were like. I played against high-level players and all those players I was playing against in the (junior) Grand Slams are doing well now. I'm happy we're all able to keep going. All the American guys I'm close to, and to [Andrey] Rublev and [Alexander] Zverev. We've been playing together since we were 12, so there's no bad blood between any of us.

Harwitt: Do you feel any pressure when you hear people say you have the potential to be the next best American player?

Tiafoe: I like that people think I have a chance to be the next best American. I stay focused on what I need to do to keep getting better, and I never get too ahead of myself because I know there's still a lot of work to get done for me to get to the top. I'm staying in the now and worrying about things I have to do.

Harwitt: You'll be the youngest American to play in the French Open main draw since Michael Chang won the title at 17 in 1989. What does it mean to you that you earned the French Open wild card?

Tiafoe: It's great. I've had a great last couple of weeks. I played a lot of tough matches, long matches and I pulled it out. I'm happy I'll have a chance to play my first main draw Grand Slam at such a young age [and] to have the experience. It definitely does mean something to me, and it's going to be interesting to be the youngest American to play at the French since Michael Chang. I just want to go over there and play and have fun. And I like playing on the clay.

Harwitt: Where do you stand with your schooling?

Tiafoe: I'm still doing all my classes. I'm a junior in high school and hoping to finish that up soon and I'll start my senior year in the fall. And I'll also be taking some college courses when I finish high school. I'm doing it online.

Harwitt: Talk about the decision to turn pro -- was it a difficult choice?

Tiafoe: There were some very strong 15k's [Futures], and I started really playing well at them and that was a big move for me. I won [at Bakersfield, California] and the next week I lost in the final, but I still thought I was playing well. I was playing great. I knew I wasn't going to play the juniors anymore since I haven't played since the US Open, and I had a great junior career, so I thought turning pro would be the right move.

Harwitt: Did you have a hard time convincing your parents to let you turn pro?

Tiafoe: Yeah, it was very tough [laughing]. My mom was really worried if it was the right move. She doesn't know too much about tennis, but after all the years she knew I was having larger results and there wasn't much around for me but to turn pro. I knew it was the right move for me to do it so I'm really happy she gave me the green light to do it. My dad was behind me. I do think I've made the right move.

Harwitt: On the decision to turn pro, how did you go about choosing Jay-Z's Roc Nation Sports to represent you?

Tiafoe: Going with Roc Nation is a little different, but the agency reached out to me. [Agent Wajid Syed] is a good guy, and he really took time and spent a lot of time talking about tennis. He really cares about my development and me as a person. I thought if I would go with him he'd really take care of me in every aspect. I immediately thought that this is going to be the right agency for me. I don't even really think of him as an agent, I think of him more as family. I'm really excited about being with this agency. Of course, I'm a huge Jay-Z fan. I've met him twice now.

Harwitt: Until now, your entire tennis training has been at home in Maryland at the Junior Tennis Champions Center and the College Park Tennis Club. Can you talk about your new coaching arrangement?

Tiafoe: I'm only going to be there at College Park when I'm home with my family, then I'll be playing there. Mainly, I'm going to be based at Boca with the USTA. Jose Higueras will be overseeing my coaching. He'll be coming to me and I'll go out to California to be with him. I'm going home right now and then to Boca on Saturday.

Harwitt: Talk about your game right now. What are you comfortable with and what are you looking to improve so you can keep moving up in the rankings?

Tiafoe: I'm comfortable with my backhand and forehand, and I'm moving a lot better. I feel [like] I'm understanding my game better and I'm seeing the court better. I'm better at attacking and I think I'm doing a better job of playing the right way, playing my game. Definitely, I'm pretty calm on the court. I've had a few outbursts, but I usually keep in myself. My serve can always get better and my volleys can get better although I'm pretty good at coming forward.

Harwitt: Who do you admire in tennis and away from tennis?

Tiafoe: In tennis I admire Juan Martin del Potro because I like the way he plays, his game style and off the court he's a nice guy. And off court I really admire Kevin Durant. The guy is an unbelievable basketball player and also a great person.