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New York's Big Ben moment at US Open

Two missed shots by Tiafoe later, that set belonged to Shelton. He broke to begin the fourth and never looked back.

New Yorks Big Ben moment at US Open

Ben Shelton reacts after winning a point against Frances Tiafoe

NEW YORK: Ben Shelton is still just 20, still new to this whole professional tennis thing. He is equipped with a tremendously good serve, but don’t think he can’t come through in other ways when it matters the most.

On a muggy night in which, yes, he hit 14 aces but also hit 11 double-faults, Shelton used one blink-and-you-missed-it booming return to save a set point in the pivotal tiebreaker and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal by edging Frances Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 at the US Open in a back-and-forth contest filled with huge hitting by both.

“Sometimes you’ve got to shut off the brain, close your eyes and just swing,” Shelton said about his forehand return winner off an 83 mph second serve that prevented Tiafoe from taking a two-sets-to-one lead. “Some may say clutch, but I don’t know about all that.”

Tiafoe’s take?

“An unbelievable return from way back there,” he acknowledged. “Come on. That’s unheard-of stuff.”

Two missed shots by Tiafoe later, that set belonged to Shelton. He broke to begin the fourth and never looked back. The match-up, which began in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday evening and ended after midnight on Wednesday, was the first major quarterfinal between two African-American men in the Open era, which dates to 1968.

“It’s great with two people of color going at it. Obviously a historic moment,” Tiafoe said. “But ultimately, once you get out there, you just want to win.” It was also the first US Open quarterfinal since 2005 between two men from the host country, which hasn’t claimed a Slam trophy in men’s singles since Andy Roddick won at Flushing Meadows two years prior to that. The crowd seemed to have a tough time deciding for whom to cheer, prodding both players at various points of the often even match-up.

Shelton will face Novak Djokovic on Friday for a berth in the final. Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, reached his record 47th Grand Slam semifinal, breaking a tie with Roger Federer for the most by a man, by defeating Taylor Fritz 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

Asked whether he knew whom he’d play next, Shelton smiled and said, knowingly, “He’s won maybe 23 of these? Something like that?” — referring to Djokovic’s total number of major championships. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Both the unseeded Shelton and No. 10 seed Tiafoe, a 25-year-old from Maryland who was a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows a year ago, wore sleeveless muscle shirts. Shelton’s was mostly black with fuchsia down the left side; Tiafoe’s was green with a multi-colored mix of colors on the front that Coco Gauff described as “confetti.” “It was a hot one in here tonight, wasn’t it guys?” Shelton asked the spectators afterward. “Feeling like I left it all out here tonight. Emotional battle.” Both hit the ball hard. So hard. But Shelton was the one drawing “ooohs” and “aaahs” from the crowd with his every-bit-of-strength lefty forehands that topped 100 mph and serves that zoomed even faster. An ace at 138 mph — he reached 149 mph twice in a fourth-round win against another American, No. 14 Tommy Paul — generated a loud reaction from spectators, as well as a “Yeah!” from the excitable Shelton himself.

“He was able to hit through the ball better than I was,” Tiafoe said.

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