New York, USA – Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe took center stage on Arthur Ashe Stadium court Tuesday at the US Open to treat home fans to an all-American (and all-Yonex) showdown.
As two rising US stars did battle in Ashe, the US Open junior event was getting underway, with 16 boys and 18 girls using Yonex racquets, making the brand the top-used supplier for singles players in the junior event.
The clock had just struck midnight when Shelton and Tiafoe’s three-hour, seven-minute battle came to an end, Shelton crafting a four-set upset to face Novak Djokovic (SRB) for a spot in the final, winning 6-2 3-6 7-6(7) 6-2.
It marked the first matchup between Shelton and Tiafoe. But for Shelton, still in his “freshman season” as a pro, Tiafoe, who is five years his senior with a nearly 10-year pro career, is “like a brother” to him.
“He’s kind of been like a brother to me since I’ve been out here on tour and a guy who has told me that he believed in me from my first ATP tournament,” Shelton said.
Shelton was ready to show off his talent in their first meeting. He took the first set with two breaks of serve and a more aggressive approach, hitting 12 winners and dropping just three points on first serve.
He broke Tiafoe in the very first game of the match, returning a 120 mph serve and forcing a Tiafoe error, letting out a roar toward his box that also proved a warning sign: “I’m ready to play.”
For Tiafoe, the matchup against the 47th-ranked Shelton was a difficult one for several reasons. A surprise semifinalist here last year, the world No.10 is not quite used to being a “favorite” in the second week of a major.
“Yeah, it’s definitely different,” admitted the 10th seed. “Obviously a lot of times I play late in tournaments. [But] I’ve been the underdog, so I just go out and play. Kind of like how Ben did, play and swing and do whatever you want.”
Tiafoe used his experience in the second set, however, playing in his third career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
Tiafoe broke for the first time in the match in the fifth game, as Shelton, who took the set with high intensity, lost concentration a bit and made a series of mistakes. Tiafoe took the second set, 6-3.
Then came the third set, a back-and-forth battle that eventually decided the fate of the match. When Tiafoe broke, Shelton broke back; when Shelton led, Tiafoe caught up.
Even in the third set tiebreaker, the scores changed hands at a dizzying pace. It was Shelton who had the first set points, but then the guy who has the fastest serve on tour made double faults in a row.
“You know, I had a set point at 6-5, went up to the line with heavy legs and ended up double faulting two times in a row.”
Shelton admitted. “I got a little bit lucky with the slap shot (return winner) to get back in control of the breaker. and then, you know, I was just tough. I think that was the key for me tonight.”
With this “key” in hand, the young American opened the door to the victory. In the fourth set, he broke the first game to seize the momentum for good. When Shelton crossed finish line with a forehand winner six games later, he celebrated his victory with a signature answering-the-phone celebration.
When he was asked in the on-court interview if he knew who his next opponent would be, he smiled coyly and replied: “He’s won maybe 23 of these, something like that?”
Then he turned to the crowd: “I’ve been playing American, but hopefully you guys bring it for me a few nights from now!”
The applause and cheers echoing through Arthur Ashe Stadium after midnight confirmed only one answer: “Yes.”
Frances Tiafoe (USA) | VCORE PRO 97/ POLYTOUR PRO 125[LINK]