The men’s semifinals at the U.S. Open are guaranteed to include at least one American.
That’s because 10th-seeded Frances Tiafoe and unseeded Ben Shelton will play for one of the final four spots when they meet in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Their match features two of the three American men remaining in the tournament. The other is ninth-seeded Taylor Fritz, who will play second-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia in another quarterfinal on Tuesday. It is the first time since 2005 that three American men have advanced this far in singles at the Open.
Tiafoe and Shelton have not played each other as professionals. Tiafoe reached the semifinals at last year’s Open. And while Shelton will be playing in the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the first time, he reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in January, losing to his fellow American Tommy Paul.
Here’s what to know about the match.
How did they get here?
Tiafoe has dropped only one set in four matches. He had straight-sets wins against Learner Tien of the United States and Sebastian Ofner of Austria. In the third round, he faced Adrian Mannarino, a 22nd-seeded Frenchman, who took the first set. But Tiafoe won in four sets even as Mannarino gave him trouble, pushing a tiebreaker in the fourth set.
Tiafoe cruised in the fourth round in another straight-sets victory, this time against Rinky Hijikata of Australia.
Shelton has played more matches than Tiafoe at the U.S. Open. In addition to men’s singles, Shelton played, and lost, in the first round of the men’s doubles draw. He was also playing on Monday in the quarterfinals of the mixed-doubles draw with his partner, Taylor Townsend.
Shelton defeated Pedro Cachin of Argentina in the first round in four sets, then caught a break in the second round when his opponent, Dominic Thiem of Austria, retired in the second set with what appeared to be a stomach-related issue.
He then beat Aslan Karatsev of Russia in four sets and upset Paul, also in four sets.
Beware of Shelton’s serve.
One of Shelton’s best tools is his powerful serve. In his fourth-round match, he fired a 149-miles-per-hour ace against Paul. The serve has been the fastest at this tournament so far.
“He’s throwing his whole arm in that thing,” Tiafoe said on Sunday.
But Tiafoe can serve well, too. In his third-round match against Hijikata, Tiafoe had 15 aces, including two back to back in the second set that were clocked at 129 and 134 m.p.h.
Still, Tiafoe acknowledged on Sunday that Shelton was more than a big serve. Shelton hits solid volleys, isn’t afraid to come to the net and plays with a lot of energy, Tiafoe said.
“He’s going to throw the kitchen sink at me,” Tiafoe said.
Keep an eye on Tiafoe’s drop shot.
Among Tiafoe’s tools is a sneaky drop shot that he likes to use at the right moment. While his drop shot can be tough for his opponents to return, Tiafoe says he tries not to use it too often.
“Because then they’re looking for it,” he said.
Part of what makes playing Tiafoe difficult is that he can be unpredictable, mixing his drop shots with slices and play at the net. In his fourth-round match, Tiafoe fired an ace at 135 m.p.h. He followed it with a drop shot.
“It’s more fun when you’re out there just using your head and using different stuff and keeping your opponent on their toes,” he said.
Aware of that, Shelton on Sunday described Tiafoe as “a nightmare to deal with.”
“He’s just one of those guys where it’s must-see TV,” Shelton said of Tiafoe. “You want to watch him play all the time. He kind of has that Carlos Alcaraz effect, especially here in New York. This is his place where he really wants to show up.”
Tiafoe has been here before.
A quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open will be a first for Shelton, who said that reaching the final eight of the tournament had been a dream of his since he was a child.
Tiafoe reached the semifinals last year, losing to Alcaraz. After coming so close to the final last year, he will be eager to have another shot.
“I want to be playing my best tennis here,” Tiafoe said after his third-round match. “That’s ultimately what matters.”
Taylor Fritz or Novak Djokovic await.
The winner of Tuesday’s match will face Fritz or Djokovic, the 23-time Grand Slam champion, in the semifinals on Friday. Djokovic is heavily favored to win in the quarterfinals, but Fritz reached the final eight without dropping a set.
Djokovic has won three of his four matches in straight sets, but he ran into trouble in the third round against his fellow countryman Laslo Djere, who took the first two sets before losing in five.