New York (AFP) – American tennis player Ben Shelton, 20, beat compatriot Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday night to qualify for the semi-finals of the US Open, where he will look to challenge Serbian star Novak Djokovic.
Shelton, ranked 47th in the ATP, stunned last edition’s semi-finalist Tiafoe (9th) with a blistering serve to beat him 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (9/7) and 6. -2 .
The Atlanta Promise, who will play his first Grand Slam semifinal, will be the youngest American in New York’s top four since Michael Chang in 1992.
“I left everything here. It was an emotional fight and an incredible atmosphere, thank you for pushing me,” the promising youngster announced in the stands under the proud gaze of his father and former player, Brian Shelton.
With no ATP title to his name, Shelton faces the uncertain mission of stopping Djokovic on his way to his long-awaited 24th Grand Slam title on Thursday.
Djokovic has “23 of these (titles), right?” Shelton wondered, smiling.
“There is nothing better than this (…) hopefully they will support me within two nights,” he asked the audience, who applauded half an hour after midnight.
The day ended with a lively clash between Tiafoe and Shelton, two powerful and charismatic new arrivals of American tennis, which has been waiting for a new champion in its Grand Slam for 20 years.
Shelton, whose best result at a major tournament was the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, adopted a very risky strategy from the start, relying blindly on his fearsome serve.
With his prodigious left foot, having played football as a ‘quarterback’ as a child, Shelton has thrown the most powerful serve of the tournament, at 240 km/h.
Against Tiafoe, he committed a total of 14 double faults, many of them in set points, but he also served 11 ‘aces’ that his opponent had no answer for.
Watched by celebrities such as actress Emma Watson, the American tennis players engaged in an exchange of projectiles, with Shelton managing to take the first advantage.
The 25-year-old Tiafoe was the theoretical favorite to qualify, as he made his mark on the stage last year by defeating Rafael Nadal.
‘Big Foe’ responded by winning the second set and starting a decisive battle in the third set, which was resolved in a chaotic ‘tiebreak’.
Shelton had two set points but his carelessness resulted in two double faults in a row, giving his opponent that opportunity.
Tiafoe also missed and it was Shelton who took the sleeve and dealt the final blow to his opponent’s morale.
“Sometimes you have to turn off your mind, close your eyes and just hit,” Shelton said of his strategy in the deciding tiebreak.
© 2023 AFP