Sunday, June 23, 2024

Francis Tiafoe and Ben Shelton Make History at the US Open | WATCH

Shelton gets the upset

*Flushing, New YorkFrancis Tiafoe and Ben Shelton faced each other for the first time in the quarterfinals at the US Open. It was the first time two black men – yes, Shelton is black – had met at that stage in the Open era. There was plenty of hype surrounding the match for that reason and because both men have proven to be charismatic ATP superstars. 

The electric atmosphere inside Arthur Ashe made the occasion feel more like a prize fight at the MGM.

Let’s face it, our swagger is undeniable. Both men entered the stadium to much hype from the crowd, swagged out wearing headphones and hoods like they were about to fight for a belt. “Big Foe” had been there and beyond before, making last year’s semis in New York, and Shelton was a first-timer at that stage in the Big Apple. Shelton reached the quarters in Australia earlier this year but had a lengthy dip in results until this fortnight.

Big Foe, 25, came up the hard way. No tennis legacy to speak of and no handouts… just a dream and hard work that paid off. He went pro in 2015. But his athleticism and variety of weaponry – huge serves and flashy magician-like shots – is widely known on tour. But he can let the flash get him in trouble at times, choosing the “show” over the “prove.” He’s world no. 10 for a reason, though. His rough road to this point has afforded him grit and guile that can get him out of the tightest fixes.

Frances Tiafoe in action during a men’s singles quarterfinal match at the 2023 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023, in Flushing, NY. (Simon Bruty/USTA)

Shelton, on the other hand, is the new kid on the block. The 20-year-old came from the college circuit, the University of Florida, and has his accomplished dad as his coach. His mom was also a player of rank back in the day. He doesn’t have the “started from the bottom” backstory that Tiafoe has, but his weapons are some of the most formidable on tour. in fact, he lays claim to the fastest serve hit this fortnight at 149 MPH. And he’s no slouch with movement around the court and net play.

That said, they both have stories, but who had the most juice to be the king of the court in their quarterfinal bout last night? Would it be the tried and true “vet” with shots like a magician or the spoon-fed college kid with the serve that tries men’s souls? They’re friends but this match was business, and a semifinal berth and $775K were on the line.

Time would tell.

If first-sets tell the story, Shelton had the edge. His first-serve percentage was lower, but he made fewer unforced errors and earned – and converted – more breakpoints than Tiafoe. Those two critical stats earned him a quick 6-2, first set lead.

Could Tiafoe regroup and even the score?

Ben Shelton in action during a men’s singles quarterfinal match at the 2023 US Open, Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2023 in Flushing, NY. (Simon Bruty/USTA)

He had it in him to do so, but he didn’t exactly run away with it to make it happen. If Shelton wasn’t out front in the next set, he was running even with what Tiafoe had to offer and it was a matter of who cracked first. And it turned out it was Shelton. His serve lost its pop and Tiafoe converted a break point for the first time in the match. He went up 4-2 and took his first lead in a set. 

But a break is not a break until you consolidate it. 

Tiafoe started the next game down 0-30 but dug himself out of trouble with his big serve. That allowed him to stick his nose a bit farther out front with a 5-2 lead in that set. He went on to serve it out, 6-2, with a vengeful roar! 

Game on!! 

They were now at a set apiece and Tiafoe took the first strike at the start of the third. He put pressure on the Shelton serve, which was slowed by the heavy New York humidity, and broke the cocky youngster for 1-0. But Tiafoe immediately got into trouble after the break and found himself down 0-40. It didn’t take long for Shelton to break right back. 1-all. 

And just like that, back on serve. 

Shelton was able to quickly capitalize on Tiafoe’s shaky service game and shifted the momentum even more his way; he broke Foe again. In fact, long story short, it was a break fest. It seemed neither player could hold serve for a while … until Shelton broke the monotony and held for 5-4. 

It was then back to bombs and bullets. Ben held for 5-all, then it was an even exchange and on to a tiebreaker. They were both dripping puddles of sweat and likely bogged down by the oppressive New York humidity, so neither had the tiebreaker on lock.

“Yeah, I thought it was super hot tonight, really muggy, super humid. Was sweating a lot, balls were really heavy,” Tiafoe said of the conditions.

But it was Shelton who overcame and finally edged Francis and took the third set, 7-6 (7), with unbelievable corner-finding returns. 

Two sets to one, Shelton.

Was Foe’s spirit broken or could he grab the fourth and make it even? Short answer: yes, it was broken.

Tiafoe was deflated after losing that close tiebreaker and he practically rolled over in the fourth set. Shelton broke his more experienced but weary friend two times, then served the match at 5-2, bombing serves to take the set and win the match. 

Shelton played inspired tennis and ultimately closed the door on his compatriot, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2. He took Tiafoe to the woodshed, a sting the DC Native will likely feel for a good while. But their careers are yet young and they’ll no doubt meet again.

He will next face Novak Djokovic in the semis.

“Going into the semifinals, I’m pretty pumped about the opportunity to go back out there and have the same feeling that I had today against, you know, another really tough opponent … So I hope that I can bring a high level again on Friday,” he said of the win.

MORE NEWS ON EURWEB: How Frances Tiafoe Went from Sleeping At A Tennis Center to Center Stage At the US Open | WATCH

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