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Frances Tiafoe Says the ‘Mental Side’ of Tennis is ‘Super Tough’: ‘That’s the Beauty of the Game’ (Exclusive)

The American tennis star advanced to the second round of the US Open after defeating Learner Tien on Monday

Frances Tiafoe is locked in.

The American tennis star, 25, advanced to the second round of the US Open after defeating Learner Tien on Monday, and he tells PEOPLE he's embracing the mental toughness of the sport in the 2023 tournament.

"It's my favorite tournament of the year," says Tiafoe, who became the first Black American man since Arthur Ashe in 1972 to reach the US Open semifinals last year. Tiafoe was also the first American man to reach the semifinal round since Andy Roddick in 2006.

Specifically, he says the "crowd and energy" at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York is "pretty hard to beat" as far as tournaments go. "It's indescribable energy and obviously, one of the best atmospheres in sports."

Tiafoe says he's a big believer in "energy and vibrations," which helps him harness the mental focus required to excel in his sport.

Related: Frances Tiafoe Says NBA All-Star Weekend Was 'Life-Changing': 'I Was Like a Kid in a Candy Shop'

"The mental side of the sport is super tough. I mean, you've got to really try to be your best at all times, but I think that's the beauty of the game; traveling around the world and get that one-on-one competition."

Tiafoe says he looks forward to "really tapping into the one-on-one competition" while he competes against his peers "at the highest level all around the world."

"When you win, it's all on you. When you lose, it's all on you. And obviously, that's tough to handle sometimes, but it's great to handle when things are going well."

Jamie Squire/Getty Frances Tiafoe of the United States
Jamie Squire/Getty Frances Tiafoe of the United States

As he continues to make history in his sport, Tiafoe says he prioritizes "relaxing" and self-care.

When he's not training or competing, Tiafoe says he's likely "just having a chill time at home or with friends" and "getting some good nights of sleep."

Another way he likes to take care of himself is through nutrition. On a cheat day, Tiafoe tells PEOPLE he's probably opting for Chick-fil-A.

"That Oreo milkshake and some french fries is definitely my play. I get some nuggets too," he says, noting that his cravings for the popular chicken chain usually come to him on Sundays, when Chick-Fil-A closes up shop for the day.

Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Frances Tiafoe of USA reacts after victory in quarterfinal of US Open Championships
Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Frances Tiafoe of USA reacts after victory in quarterfinal of US Open Championships

But when it comes to making healthy choices for his body, Tiafoe is proud to be partnered with Clif Bar. "I had been paying for it for a while," he says of the power bar. "I just got back home yesterday and I saw a ton of boxes had just come, and there was a cookies and cream flavor. I had it during practice today and I loved it, so I think I might have to put that in as my favorite now."

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Before the recent delivery from the brand, Tiafoe says he leaned towards the white macadamia nut flavor. "That's crack, literally," he jokes.

Through his partnership with Clif Bar, Tiafoe is joining the Clif Corps Athlete Coalition to launch a series of tennis clinics across the United States. The clinics will kick off in New York, Miami, Atlanta and Houston, with additional cities to come.

Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Frances Tiafoe of USA
Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images Frances Tiafoe of USA

The clinics will come to life thanks to Clif and his own Frances Tiafoe Fund, an endeavor focusing on combining tennis and education to increase access to the sport for under-resourced youth.

Tiafoe appreciates the support from Clif "not only on the court, but off the court, in what I wanted to do to impact other people and give them a chance to win," he says.

Related: Francis Tiafoe Becomes First American Man Since 2006 to Reach US Open Semifinals

It's a cause close to his heart, as Tiafoe, the son of Sierra Leone immigrants, learned to play tennis at a Maryland training center where his dad worked as the on-site custodian. The facility waved the usual training fees for Tiafoe and his twin brother Franklin, and the two rose through the tennis ranks.

On Wednesday night, Tiafoe will play Sebastian Ofner of Austria in the second round of the 2023 US Open.

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