For the first time in the history of the US Open, two Black men faced each other in the quarterfinals. World No. 10 Frances Tiafoe was defeated by newcomer Ben Shelton at Arthur Ashe Stadium with a score of 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(7), 6-2.
Tuesday’s match was also the first time since 2008 that two Black men played each other at Arthur Ashe Stadium, according to CNN. Arthur Ashe was the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in tennis and the first to win several titles in the sport, including a singles title at the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. Ashe’s achievements have inspired generations of tennis players, including rising stars Tiafoe, 25, and Shelton, 20.
Tiafoe’s story starts with his parents, who emigrated from Sierra Leone at the height of the country’s civil war in the 1990s. His parents met in the U.S. and settled down in Maryland, where they had twin boys, Franklin and Tiafoe, according to the New York Times. His father, Constant Tiafoe, worked for the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., and was later promoted to become the maintenance director of the facility. He leveraged his role to spend time on the court with his children.
Tiafoe became obsessed with tennis, after displaying a unique passion for the game and watching lessons to improve his skills to the admiration of his father and others. In 2022, he became a global sensation after being the first Black American man to reach a US Open semifinal since Ashe in 1972.
Shelton’s love for tennis is not surprising considering his father, Bryan, is a tennis champion who won two professional titles and played on the Association of Tennis Professionals Tour. Bryan recently resigned from coaching at the University of Florida to coach his son Shelton in professional tennis. Shelton has now made history to the joy of his family and tennis fans and awaits his semi-final clash with the legendary Novak Djokovic.
The match between Shelton and Tiafoe will always be remembered not only for the display of skills and talent but for its celebration of diversity, experts say.