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Shelton last American man standing, beats Tiafoe to reach U.S. Open semis

And then there was one….

There was always going to be one; the only question was: “who?”

With at least one American man guaranteed to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open, Ben Shelton defeated compatriot Frances Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2 after three hours and seven minutes on Tuesday night. There was a chance–albeit a small one–for two, but Taylor Fritz lost to Novak Djokovic 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 earlier in the day.

That made Tiafoe vs. Shelton a battle to be the last American man left in New York.

It was Shelton who got the upper hand in that battle, but not before a wild third set that proved to be decisive. After the first two sets were split, the third featured a ridiculous six service breaks. Both players took turns trailing by a break and going up by a break. Eventually a tiebreaker had to decide it, and the roller-coaster ride continued. Tiafoe fought off a set point on serve at 4-6 before Shelton double-faulted twice in succession to go from leading 6-5 to trailing 7-6. That suddenly gave Tiafoe a chance to close it out, but the world No. 47 came up with the shot of the match down set point–a forehand return winner barely inside the baseline and sideline.

After stealing the third, Shelton rolled through the fourth to become the youngest American man to reach the semis of his home slam since Michael Chang in 1992.

Overall it has been a historic tournament for the host nation on the men’s side (and still could be on the women’s side, as well). Tiafoe vs. Shelton marked the first all-American U.S. Open men’s singles quarterfinal since Andre Agassi vs. James Blake in 2005. In Arthur Ashe Stadium, it was also the first USO QF between two black American men.

In 2005, the last time three American men reached the USO quarters, Robby Ginepri joined Agassi and Blake. Two advanced to the semis 18 years ago, as Agassi followed up a five-set thriller against Blake by also defeating Ginepri in five. This 2023 American contingent could not duplicate that semifinal duo, however, since Fritz fell to Djokovic.

Now it is Djokovic who stands in Shelton’s way of becoming the first American men’s finalist at the U.S. Open since 2006 (Andy Roddick).

With Djokovic up next for him on Friday, Shelton–as his recurring victory celebration suggests–remains “dialed in.” Only after his U.S. Open finally ends will he be able to reflect.

“It’s pretty cool for me to be a part of it; I love to see American tennis going in a great direction, and tennis in general going in a great direction,” the Atlanta native explained. “It’s weird, but I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of blocking out everything that’s going on around me when I need to, and I’ve stayed in the moment and focused on the tennis. It’s like when that point is playing, I don’t hear anything; I don’t see anything. I’m just practicing in a park. So that’s kind of been surprising to me how calm I’ve been able to stay; just stay in the moment.

“I think that when the tournament is finally over and everything is said and done, I’ll have to take a step back and look at everything that happened.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.