Either U.S. Open quarterfinalist Taylor Fritz, Francis Tiafoe or Ben Shelton is three victories away from becoming the first U.S. male pro to win a major title since Andy Roddick claimed the 2005 Open crown. The presence of No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic, 36, a proven past master, and top seed Carlos Alcaraz, a 20-year-old rising past master, looms as likely dream busters
On facing Djokovic, who holds the men’s record of 23 major titles, No. 9 Fritz said, “He’s gotten me seven times. There’s no one on tour that has any kind of a record like that against me. … U.S. Open quarters would be a pretty good time to get him.”
The first Tiafoe vs. Shelton tour matchup also represents the first meeting of two African-American males in the quarterfinals of a major tournament. The winner remains on course to become only the second African American male to win a major title since three-time winner Arthur Ashe.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, a great representation for people of color, right?” said Tiafoe referring to his match against Shelton. “A huge match on Arthur Ashe (stadium). It’s a … monumental moment. … Hopefully, it’s a great battle. He’s just an extremely loud player, … hits the ball big, serves huge.”
Sheldon, a 6-4 lefty, captured the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s title while at Florida University, turned pro in August 2022, and reached the 2023 Australian Open quarterfinals five months later, losing to Tommy Paul, who he defeated 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 Monday in the U.S. Open fourth round.
Two of Shelton’s serves were clocked at 149 mph. He said the boisterous appreciative crowd made him do it. “I think it was straight adrenaline,” he said. “In any other atmosphere, I don’t think I could get it done. I think my arm would fall off, but it’s feeling good right now.” The record for the fastest serve (152 mph) at the US Open is still held by Roddick.
Shelton said, “I think it’s really important for getting me in the right mental state, playing the type of tennis where I love to be out there. When I try to (just) be professional, be quiet, have a stern look on my face the whole time I’m playing, it takes away from some of my creativity on the court. When I’m having fun, I’m playing some of my best tennis.”
Since losing to Paul at the Australian Open earlier this year, Shelton, coached by former pro Bryan Shelton, has developed a more positive approach to his profession. When I was playing in Australia, I was … saying my legs are dead. I’m tired. I can’t go anymore. I realized how important it is for me to believe that I can go all the way, the full distance, emotionally and physically and now I have that belief here. I really learned how to be mentally tough.”
Shelton must first get by the more experienced Tiafoe, who reached the semifinals last year and also is focused on getting his name in the U.S. Open record books. Tiafoe says he applauds Shelton’s energy and style, but adds, “I enjoy playing lefties. I’m going to try to do a good job, make him play a lot of balls. … just try to make it a really tough night for him.”
The winner of the Fritz vs. Djokovic match faces the winner of No. 10 Tiafoe vs. No. 47 Shelton next in the semifinals.