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Ben Shelton Moves Into Semifinals As The Last American Man At The US Open

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The final tennis major of the year will feature a surging, happy 20-year-old taking on 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic. He will, however, do so one round earlier than anticipated. Djokovic will first face Ben Shelton, the big-hitting, bigger-smiling American who defeated two of the top-ranked American men, Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe, in back-to-back sets in Arthur Ashe Stadium this week, before facing world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in Sunday’s final.

“I’m pretty pumped about the opportunity to go back out there and have the same feeling I have today against another really tough opponent,” Shelton said after his four-set win over Tiafoe in the quarterfinals late Tuesday. “I’ve been enjoying every moment on court, the interactions with the crowd and the tennis that’s being played.”

Fans of American tennis who were hoping to see an American man compete in a Grand Slam final — in their home Slam, no less — for the first time since 2009 were not thinking of the unseeded Shelton. He is, nevertheless, the last remaining American male.

“I love to see American tennis going in a great direction and tennis in general going in a great direction,” Shelton said.

The last American guy to win a major was Andy Roddick in 2003, and this year, during the Slam, appeared like the perfect opportunity to break that run. Eight American athletes are ranked in the top 50 on the ATP, and Nos. 9 and 10 in the globe Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe have been preparing for a huge breakthrough.

Three American men competed in the quarterfinals in Queens on Tuesday for the first time since 2005, including Fritz and Tiafoe, but only No. 47-ranked Shelton, who is vying for his first tour-level championship, prevailed.

Shelton has displayed poise and assurance over the past week and a half, especially in crucial situations like the third-set tiebreaker against Tiafoe that decided one of the tournament’s most exciting games. The third set began with six breaks in the opening eight games—three from each player—to tie the first set at one apiece. Shelton double-failed twice at set point of the tiebreaker before smashing a 105 mph forehand return to the corner and ultimately winning the breaker 9-7.

“It’s one of my biggest weapons, my serve, so to lose two points the way I did was unfortunate and frustrated me,” Shelton said. “Down set point, I needed to let some of that frustration out. All set, I’d been so uptight about things, trying hard to hold serve. I’d gotten broken, broke back and had so much stress. I needed a release.”

The ultimate reversal in the match’s momentum at that point demonstrated Shelton’s mental development during the first 14 months of his professional career, according to Shelton.

The talk of the event has been Shelton’s blistering forehands and serves that reach speeds close to 150 mph. However, he successfully varied his serve speeds and shot choices against Tiafoe, another heavy hitter, especially in the latter stages of the match.

After that, he mimicked picking up a landline phone and slamming it down while taking inspiration from his friend, sprinter Grant Holloway, who last month won the 110-meter hurdles world championship for the third time in a row.

Shelton, a star in collegiate tennis and the 2022 NCAA singles champion, tried out the ATP tour last spring before resigning as head coach at the University of Florida, where his father, Bryan Shelton, spent 11 years, to devote himself to the game.

He lost to Paul in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and now he finds himself in his first Grand Slam semifinal, where he will try to thwart Djokovic’s quest for a record-tying 24th major championship.

Of course, doing that against a guy who has put in a lot of effort to prevent American players from winning significant trophies is no simple feat. 30 straight victories over Americans are a record for Djokovic, who most recently defeated Fritz in straight sets in the quarterfinals. However, Djokovic is up against a young lefty in Shelton who has nothing to lose and a growing fan base.

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