#NextGenATP star reaches first major semi-final, cracks Top 20 of Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings

Ben Shelton has become the youngest American US Open semi-finalist in 30 years after recovering from a near catastrophe in the third-set tie-break to upset 10th-seeded countryman Frances Tiafoe Tuesday night at Flushing Meadows.

Twelve months on from a first-round loss at the Open as the World No. 165, 20-year-old Shelton tonight cracked the Top 20 of the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings for the first time and moved to within one match of reaching his first Grand Slam final in just his fifth appearance at the majors following his 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2 victory.

“I felt like I left it all out here tonight. It was an emotional battle,” Shelton said on court after the match. [atp app]

But standing in his way is Novak Djokovic, who will be lacing up for a record-breaking 47th major semi-final as he continues his quest for a 10th final and fourth title at the US Open, where he hopes to build on his record haul of 23 Grand Slam titles.

Much talk had been made of the 2022 NCAA singles champion's overpowering serve coming into match but his return of serve proved equally as influential, especially during a rollercoaster third set that began with six service breaks in the first eight games.

When the set entered the tie-break, Shelton had two set points at 6/4 but soon after at 6/5 he served consecutive double faults to present Tiafoe with a set point of his own. In response, Shelton thundered a second-serve forehand return down the line into the very corner of the court for a clean winner and two points later he clinched the set.

“Sometimes you have to shut off the brain, close the eyes and just swing,” Shelton said of not folding in the tie-break after the double-fault disaster. “Maybe there was a little bit of that down set point, but it ended up working out.”

Shelton’s raw power came to the fore in the first game of the fourth set, when he clocked three clean winners from deep behind the baseline to break Tiafoe for the sixth time. 

Shelton energised the crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium with frequent lung-busting roars to his box, while Tiafoe, known as one of the game’s most entertaining showmen, cut a more reserved figure throughout, perhaps reflecting the pressure of being the favourite against his younger countryman and defending the semi-final points he earned last year.

Despite being broken four times, Shelton came up clutch when it mattered most in the fourth set, dropping just four points on his serve. For the match he clipped 50 winners to Tiafoe’s 33.

Shelton fired 14 aces and took big cuts on his forehand from both deep behind the baseline and when he stepped into the court, hitting a string of winners both down the line and cross court.

Shelton, who now sits at No. 19 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, had his Grand Slam breakout at the Australian Open in January when he reached the quarter-finals in his first journey outside the United States. But he failed to back that up through the early and mid-part of the season, not claiming consecutive victories until arriving at Flushing Meadows.

Tiafoe, who has slipped to No. 11 in the Live Race, had dropped just one set en route to his third major quarter-final and had won 19 consecutive matches against left-handers, a streak that included his fourth-round win over Rafael Nadal in New York last year.