The US Open quarterfinals match between Frances Tiafoe and Ben Shelton on Tuesday was highly significant, as it marked the first time in history that two Black men competed against each other. Regardless of who emerged victorious, it was a momentous occasion.
In the milestone game, Shelton emerged as the victor, causing an upset against the 10th ranked player, Tiafoe, with a score of 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2. This win secured a spot for Shelton in the semifinals where they will face off against 23-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic.
This marked the first instance in over a decade where two African American men competed against each other at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It has been close to twenty years since a male American tennis player has emerged victorious at the US Open. While many are hopeful that this drought will come to an end in 2023, tennis enthusiasts are currently reveling in this momentous match.
“According to Art Carrington, a former professional tennis player turned coach, this is a unique and cosmic occurrence,” he stated to CNN before the game.
He stated that the personalities of Tiafoe and Shelton will bring a new level of depth to the sport.
The recent tennis match between two up-and-coming players has drawn attention to Black men in the sport. Tiafoe, 25, and Shelton, 20, competed against each other at a stadium named after a pioneering Black tennis icon.
Arthur Ashe was the initial Black American male to achieve the top ranking in tennis and to secure multiple titles in the sport, such as winning the US Open, Australian Open, and Wimbledon singles titles. He was also the first African American to compete on the United States’ Davis Cup team.
Carrington, who used to train with Ashe, emphasized the significance of younger generations witnessing Black men achieving success in the sport of tennis to CNN.
“We need to make sure that tennis is visible, so that people can see Black players participating,” he stated.
The speaker also mentioned that although the journey of Venus and Serena Williams in tennis is well known, there is a lack of family narratives about African American men. He believes that this is a significant moment.
Tiafoe and Shelton were both immersed in the sport from a young age.
Tiafoe, the child of Sierra Leonean immigrants, grew up at a junior tennis champion center where his father was employed in maintenance. After a couple of years, he joined a tennis clinic at the center.
In 2022, he achieved the historic feat of becoming the first Black American man to reach the US Open semifinals since Ashe in 1972.
Shelton is emulating his father, Bryan, a successful tennis player who earned two professional titles and competed on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour.
Earlier this year, Shelton’s father left his coaching position at the University of Florida to become his son’s coach in professional tennis.
According to Carrington, it is crucial for young Black Americans to be introduced to tennis in order to cultivate passion for the sport. He believes it is the responsibility of older generations to share their love for the game and pass it down.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Carrington advised Tiafoe and Shelton to not let the significance of this historic moment distract them.
He advised, “Try to find enjoyment, don’t toy with stress. Release the stress.”
This report includes contributions from Ben Church of CNN.