Frances Tiafoe is supported by Bradley Beal at the US Open

Frances Tiafoe is supported by Bradley Beal at the US Open

NEW YORK — The first tennis match Bradley Beal ever watched in person felt to him like an NBA Finals game.

What, tennis crowds don’t usually get that loud?

The Washington Wizards guard, fresh off signing a new $251 million contract and with a newborn son at home — his third boy — has spent the waning few days of the NBA offseason traveling back and forth between DC and New York to support Hyattsville, Md., native Frances Tiafoe as he authors a historic run to the semifinals of the US Open.

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Beal, former Wizards guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Wizards player development staffers Alex McLean and Rob Dosier were all on hand for Tiafoe’s upset of Rafael Nadal in the fourth round and his win over Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals. The Beals sat in Tiafoe’s player box for the Nadal upset, after which Tiafoe gave the guard a shout-out as his favorite NBA player.

“It was one of the most unbelievable things to be a part of,” Beal said.

For Tiafoe’s quarterfinal win, the group sat courtside — no polite clapping here.

McLean and Dosier stood up after big points from the first game, leaning over, clapping and talking at Tiafoe just like they do on an NBA sideline. Beal and Tiafoe flexed their muscles at each other after winners, one athlete to another. It took the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium — raucous for a tennis match but buttoned-up compared to NBA audiences — a few games to catch up.

“It really felt like an NBA Finals game. Everybody says he has that kind of appeal when he plays, and that’s what I love about him. He plays with passion. He plays with joy, you know?” Beal said. “You can see that. He doesn’t shy away from who he is. He has the little antics he does during his matches. It just brings the fun out and keeps everyone engaged.”

Tiafoe had LeBron James and James’s agent Rich Paul reach out after his win over Nadal, but the 24-year-old’s allegiances lie within the DC area (though he did refer to James as his “big bro” on Twitter. Who could blame him?).

Tiafoe has known Beal for years, ever since Wizards President and General Manager Tommy Sheppard brought him into the team’s locker room after a game nearly a decade ago. He wore Beal’s No. 3 jersey while walking around the grounds at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in the days before the US Open started.

Maryland football coach Michael Locksley is riding the Tiafoe train, too. The connection there is natural — Tiafoe learned to play tennis at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center and has shown Maryland love since. He dropped in on practice in the months after Locksley was hired.

“I kind of see myself as a mentor. He spends a lot of time here in our facility when he’s in town,” Locksley said this week. “I know our training room, we laugh because yesterday during practice I saw our trainers all on their phones. I said, ‘We’ve got guys practicing.’ And they take good care of Frances when he’s here in town. He’s been a great supporter of Maryland football. He’s friends with some of the former players and current players. He’s one of those guys like myself that loves everything DMV.”

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Beal appreciates the energy Tiafoe is bringing to Washington during the US Open. He also knows his run will have ripple effects far beyond the District.

“He’s born and raised here. He has roots here. To be able to meet him almost 10 years ago and see where he’s progressed to as a pro, playing in the US Open, having a chance to go to the finals — the craziest stat is him being the first Black man to reach the semifinals since Arthur Ashe [in 1972],” Beal said. “Like, that is crazy to think about. We just support him from being from DC, just being who he is. But to look outside the box and think about that — he’s creating history before our eyes.”

Emily Giambalvo in College Park, Md., contributed to this report.

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