Ayan Broomfield, Partner Of Tennis star Frances Tiafoe, On Giving Back, Reality TV, And Sacrificing For His Success

Riley Taylor

A visit to Palm Springs, Calif. for many is a unique experience. It’s an opportunity to bask in the sunshine, to see beautiful hot springs, and to spend big bucks at nearby vintage and high-end boutiques. For Ayan Broomfield, star of Season 2 of Netflix’s Break Point, it’s indeed an opportunity to reset in a serene surrounding for a little bit, but her visit to the bustling city is also about business. It’s about to be go time.

At the time of our chat, she’s in town for the Indian Wells Open tennis tournament. She’s there to support her longtime love, star player Frances Tiafoe, as he goes after his first Grand Slam. Her presence in his corner is essential, as the fellow tennis player has been by his side for almost 10 years, the two meeting in 2014.

“We both played junior tennis at a very high level. I’m from Canada, so I was playing for my country, Frances was playing for the States,” she says. “And then one of our mutual friends was like, ‘Well, you guys actually would be really good friends.’ So we started talking then and became best friends for a bit. It’s been eight, nine years now. It’s been a journey.”

A journey indeed. She’s watched Tiafoe climb the ranks (his highest being No. 10, and he’s currently 18th), including after he became a star in the sport. His biggest moment yet came in what some might call an “upset” win, when he beat a then No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal, considered one of the kings of the sport, at the U.S. Open in 2022. Tiafoe eventually would make it to the semifinal, becoming the first Black man to get that far in the tournament since Arthur Ashe in 1972.

“Overnight it was such a huge, huge drastic change,” Broomfield recalls, noting that photogs immediately started following them and frenzy began. “I think it helped that we were so close because it was a lot. It was a lot very quickly, and we were not expecting it.”

That closeness — the couple training together, running through the ups and downs of his performances on the court post-match because of her own expertise in the sport — has been essential for Tiafoe. Their bond, and her words of encouragement, were recently captured on the Netflix series, which is all about highlighting burgeoning and established tennis players as they prep and compete in Grand Slams throughout the tennis season. In different ways, being his peace has required sacrifice from Broomfield, but it’s all worth it to the beauty, who is flourishing as a content creator, actress and model, and hasn’t abandoned her own place in the game of tennis.

“Right now, the goal is to get Frances to be a Grand Slam champion. So right now, obviously I have stuff on the side that I’m doing that’s for me personally so that I feel self-fulfilled, but at the end of the day, that’s the goal that we’ve kind of sat down and thought about. That’s what we’re going to go after,” she says confidently. “This is what we want to do, this is what I’ve decided, and I’m happy with that.”

We talked with Broomfield about her long-time relationship, the joys and the stress of watching Tiafoe compete and supporting him through it all, and the ways in which she’s making a name for herself, and in turn, making an impact.

ESSENCE: You and Frances go way back, when you were kids. What has it been like watching his star rise in the sport, and being on the road together?

Ayan Broomfield: It’s been incredible. I mean, it’s definitely been a roller coaster, so many ups and downs. With anyone’s career, whether it’s an athlete or you’re in a business, you have to support them through everything. It’s just about being steady and making sure that I’m always there.

He was doing well, and then all of a sudden he had this huge run at the U.S. Open in 2022. And honestly, the day before the big match that he played, no one knew who we were. And then the next day we came downstairs, and there was paparazzi everywhere. Recently, we’ve kind of gotten a little bit more used to it, but it was a lot. And I mean, neither Frances nor myself come from a celebrity parent. We didn’t come from extreme wealth either. So it was just a lot really quickly. But it’s a blessing to be able to have that experience and be in these rooms with such amazing people and have these opportunities. So we’ve done well with it, but it definitely was a lot. It hit us like a brick, for sure.

As his partner, and a tennis player yourself, how do you encourage him during and after these tense matches?

I think for me, I’m blessed to have a tennis background. So when he’s going through things, we don’t just talk about it on the surface level like, “You can win next time.” We’ll actually sit down and work together and break down what’s going on. And I think that’s something that is unique to our relationship is the ability to go deeper and the ability to actually talk about what it is that he’s doing well, what it is that he’s not doing well. I know for me, myself, when I was playing, I was very high energy and very erratic with my play. But Frances, he’s not as fidgety as I am. So something that I’ve had to learn is that it’s someone else playing, and you have to adapt to their personality and their playing style.

But what has helped is just being able to analyze the sport and not make it a bigger deal than it is when he is not doing well and then remaining humble and making sure that we’re staying analytical when he is doing well. Because tennis is a very up and down sport, and if you don’t stay grounded and centered through all the ups and downs, it just becomes not only a physical roller coaster, but also an emotional one and we don’t want that.

For me, it’s not easy because there’s nothing you can really do when he’s on court. They’re there on the court by themselves, and you want to help and encourage, but at the end of the day, they have to show up for themselves. So I think for me, it’s just making sure that whatever I can take care of off the court to make sure that he’s not stressed out or he just feels good going onto court, that’s what I can provide and that’s what I try and do my best with in our relationship.

Ayan Broomfield, Girlfriend Of Tennis Star Frances Tiafoe, On Giving Back, Reality TV, And Sacrificing For His Success
Riley Taylor

Oh, I love that. And what is it like for you being at these matches?

When the day is done, you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. It’s so exhausting, and I don’t think you really feel it until you’re actually invested in a player. When you become invested in someone and they’re chasing their dreams and they’re going after it and you want it just as badly as they want it for themselves, it’s emotional. I feel like sometimes my neck, I’m just tense. I’ve been straining. And it’s just after knowing someone for so long, even when they look up at you in the crowd, you know what they’re thinking, you know what they’re going through. Sometimes you know when he’s feeling nervous or he’s not feeling great, and you just feel for him. You’re constantly talking to each other. It’s little comments here and there, little glances here and there, so you have to be locked in the entire time. But it’s definitely a lot. And you just want to make sure that he feels that he has your support.

Do you miss playing the sport on a professional level?

If I’m being honest, yes, I do. One thing about tennis, it’s a very expensive sport, and the timing was a little bit off for me. I was going to go pro right away, the same as Frances at 17, 18 and bypass the college route. And then I got injured. So when I turned pro, I went to school, so already that kind of changed the trajectory. And then coming out of school, everything was great, and then COVID-19. So the timing kind of threw things away, and then in that COVID period, I feel like everyone was trying to figure out their life and figure out what they wanted to do and make sure that they were still making money.

And when you’re not playing tennis, there’s no way to make money. So I went more into the media and entertainment, did tennis scenes for a movie, I started modeling a little bit more. And I think that’s just where life took me. I do get on the court and I still hit with Frances, we still work out, we still do all the things, it’s just a little bit different. I’m in the tennis world, but again, in a different role. But yeah, I do miss it a bit. I love to compete. I’ve had to find different ways to compete now and be competitive and in different routes in my life. But I played the sport for 20 years. I think if you do anything for 20 years, you’re going to have some type of emotional and physical attachment to it. So I definitely miss it, but I’m also happy where I am, and I’m growing in different ways, so I’m happy with that as well.

Okay. I love that. Like you mentioned, you still have a hand in the sport in a way. What was it like being a part of King Richard, getting to be a double for the character of Venus Williams and being able to work with the actual Venus Williams to make that happen?

That was probably one of the highlights of my tennis career. It just felt so full circle for me. I mean, you grow up idolizing the Williams sisters. My dad coached my sister and I as well. We looked up to them so much. So to be able to be called personally by Venus to do this, it was one of the best moments of my life because I just felt like, okay, you did something right. You grinded, you went through a lot, but to come back and have one of your idols ask you to play her in a movie, it was insane.

And then obviously they were very, very in tune to what was going on on set. They overlooked the script a bunch of times. They wanted to make sure that it was told right. I had to study a lot to make sure that I was as Venus-esque as possible, because you want to do her justice, you want to pay homage to what she did for the sport and what she did for the Black community. I mean, what these two girls and their family and their dad did, it changed the state of tennis. So I did feel a lot of pressure going in, making sure that I did a good job. It was amazing to even witness Will Smith, an incredible actor. The whole experience was truly amazing, and I’m just glad that I was chosen to do it.

I love that. And can you tell us about the work you’re doing with your Ayan Broomfield Foundation?

So when I was younger and I was playing tennis, I remember a lot of the times going to tournaments and going to practice, I did feel a little bit a sense of embarrassment because I didn’t have the right stuff. I didn’t have the things that everyone else had. But the thing that my mom always told me was, “Look, we’re going to put you in sport because sport, it’s all about hard work and determination. It doesn’t matter what you have. If you outwork the rest of the girls that you’re playing against, at some point the tide will turn, and you’ll be able to be successful. And it’s not because of where you came from or what you have, it’s because you worked hard.” And that’s something I always remembered stepping onto the court, and it helped me a lot. But it is part of my past, and it is something that I’ve always felt if I ever got to a point where I could give back and help, I would.

So now kind of being on the road with Frances, that was the first time last year that I was on the tour 100% of the time. I’m going to all these different places. I’m also starting to get some brand deals for myself. And I thought to myself, how can I use this level of privilege now to help? And I came up with the idea of, in the main cities that I go for these tournaments, if I am getting a brand deal here and there, have them provide not only stuff for me, but have them provide stuff for the programs and shelters and nonprofits around the world for people that need it.

So for example, in Melbourne, we were at the Australian Open. I was there and I had Nike donate all of the product that they weren’t using for the Open to some of the Boys & Girls Clubs in Melbourne. Next week in Miami, I have a partnership with a beauty brand, and I spoke with a women’s shelter, and a lot of women there who are dealing with domestic violence and domestic abuse and those types of things, they have children there. And one of the things that a nonprofit manager was telling us is that a lot of the women there don’t have sunscreen. It’s a little nuanced thing that you wouldn’t think about, but they’re just struggling with a lot of sunscreen outages. And I have a brand deal with a beauty brand that provides sunscreen. So they’re going to provide 500 units of sunscreen to 500 different women at the shelter.

These are the types of things that I think I can help with. I just want to make sure that I’m doing that in every way that I can and then using my status and privilege and my platform to do good. And I think that that’s driving me, instead of it being like, oh my gosh, I want to make all this money and be a celebrity. It’s like, no, if I can post some more and get 10,000 more followers and 10,000 new brands that can help, that’s what I want to do this for. It just feels fulfilling to me, and I just want to help as many people as possible.

Ayan Broomfield, Girlfriend Of Tennis Star Frances Tiafoe, On Giving Back, Reality TV, And Sacrificing For His Success
Riley Taylor

That’s really amazing. I know Break Point, they’re not coming back with a third season. How are you feeling about that? And what is next for you in making sure that you’re getting to put yourself out there in the forefront so that you can continue to have this impact?

Moving forward, I have a few offers for a few different TV shows. My thing is I just want to make sure I’m staying authentic to myself, and I’m sticking to my ethics. I mean, it’s going to depend on how the show’s portrayed. With reality TV I think there’s always a couple of things that could go wrong. But I do think any type of exposure is good to be able to get your own personal message out there. So I’ll have to cultivate what kind of TV show or what kind of character I want to be playing.

But yeah, I mean, I love to be in front of the camera. I love modeling. I just signed a new deal with Wilson. I’m still in the tennis scene for modeling and being an ambassador for that, but I want to make sure that I continue with acting, modeling. That’s what I love to do. I love to be in front of the camera. I love to express myself that way. And yeah, Frances and I have been approached about a few different things in terms of being on camera and TV. We’re just trying to figure out with who and what it’s going to look like.

But I think as one of the few Black couples in tennis in the game, it’s important that we are advocates for our community. And I think that Frances especially does an amazing job transcending the game because we go to matches and he’s bringing different people to the game that would never come to a match before. It is an incredible thing. You hear people come to the matches all the time, and they’re like, “I didn’t know it was fun. I didn’t know tennis was cool. I didn’t know I would have a good time.” And I just think that a lot of times when I’m doing my content creation, I would love to be able to reach more of my own community through tennis, and I’m just trying to figure out ways to do that.

In the beginning you talked a lot about the efforts that you made to try to be as much of a support to Frances as you can be. To people who may not get that, can you speak to why that is so important to you? Obviously you guys have been with each other for almost a decade, and so that plays a huge part in it. But I think a lot of people often feel like, “Girl, don’t put all of this into your partner,” and all that kind of stuff. So for people who may have that kind of vibe or thought, do you have any kind of retort to them?

Yeah, and it’s funny. You get that a lot. You get that a lot where it’s like, “Don’t build somebody else up,” or don’t do that. My parents have been together since they were 18, and they built each other up. My grandparents came from Jamaica, and they were together, and they built each other up. That’s just kind of where I come from, and I think it takes a village.

I remember when I was contemplating coming on the road full time, I actually sat down with Roger Federer and we had a really long conversation about what Mirka, his wife, brought to his career. And he explained to me that he would not have been where he was without her, and the sacrifices that she made for him to get to where he is. She played as well, and she stopped playing and she was there for him, and she supported. I think that conversation was the one that really changed my thinking 100% to where I’m like, “Look, I care about this person. I love this person. I want him to get to the highest level possible.” And when he asked me to come on tour, he didn’t do that for me to just sit there with him. He did that so that we could build as a partnership.

He’s very supportive of everything that I’m doing off-court. Anything that he can do to set me up or help out or be there for me, he’s always been there. It gets to a point where you need to pick whether this is a person that you want to be with. And people say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” But I think that’s the only way to live life. I think you need to be super extreme. You have one go around at this thing. So you have to be super extreme and give everything you have to what you want to do and what you love and who you love.

Photographer: Riley Taylor
Makeup: Ashley Simmons
Hair: Jenn Lagron

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