Getty Images/ Rob Carr
Hedge fund titan Bill Ackman, the CEO of $ 14 billion Pershing Square Capital, is sponsoring sixteen-year-old tennis phenom Francis Tiafoe.
Tiafoe, a top ranked junior, won his first Grand Slam main draw match in doubles this week at the U.S. Open.
ESPN tennis analyst Brad Gilbert told CNBC that Tiafoe was one of the players to watch. He also mentioned that there’s “a huge, HUGE hedge fund guy” backing Tiafoe.
Gilbert didn’t name Ackman explicitly, but we were able to figure it out.
We got in touch with Ackman and he told us that Tiafoe has a great story.
“[Tiafoe] has a very compelling life story and he’s super talented. He’s a good kid,” Ackman told us in a telephone interview. “I’m in a position to be able to help people and he’s the kind of guy you want to back.”
Tiafoe’s story is unique compared to other players. His father, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, was the janitor at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Maryland. The JTCC is a non-profit tennis academy built by former Goldman Sachs partner, Kenneth Brody. It’s known for being one of the top facilities for creating players.
Tiafoe and his twin brother Franklin would come to work with their dad. Tiafoe pretty much grew up on the tennis courts. The first time he picked up a racket he was only three-years-old.
At age 15, he became the youngest ever to win the prestigious 18-and-under Orange Bowl in men’s singles. Tennis super-stars Andy Roddick and Roger Federer also won the Orange Bowl as teens, but they were older than Tiafoe.
Tiafoe met Ackman in the summer of 2013. Some of the JTCC’s other top juniors were invited to the Hamptons for Kenneth Brody’s 70th birthday. Investment banker/tennis player Jeff Appel, affectionately known as the “Mayor of New York Tennis,” brought the junior players to Ackman’s house where they played doubles.
Ackman partnered with Tiafoe and he took a liking to him.
This summer, Ackman traveled to College Park to play with Tiafoe at the JTCC.
Ackman is heavily involved in the tennis community on Wall Street. Ackman played in high school at Horace Greeley in the 1980s, but he did not play in college. He returned to tennis world thanks to the encouragement of Jeff Appel. Ackman frequently plays in charity tournaments and he donates significant amounts of money to various causes.
It’s expensive to be a tennis player. It’s a sport where you can lose money for a long time before you have a chance of making it. It’s a sport where you really do need a backer.
It’s unclear how much Ackman’s sponsorship is, but we’re told by another source that it’s “a meaningful amount.”