Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe’s historic match proves that the future of Black tennis is as bright as ever

OPINION: Shelton advances to the semifinals after an epic battle that saw two Black men in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the first time. Meanwhile, Coco Gauff also reached the semis, her best result at the U.S. Open yet.

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

If you were wondering about Black tennis after Serena, just be clear about this: The kids are fine. On Tuesday afternoon, Coco Gauff destroyed a woman who had just finished beating the No. 1 player in the world. But Gauff is not intimidated by anyone. She’s a power player with a big serve, and she’s fast. Her game reminds many of Serena’s with her power, her speed and her intense attitude. She cruised into the semifinals, her best result at the U.S. Open so far, and made it clear that she is one of the best players in the world. 

Gauff has many fans who love her immensely — Spike Lee has shown up at almost all of her matches this year and last. Her fans may feel a twinge of protectiveness because she’s so young at just 19, but they also know that once the ball is in play, she is our warrior-princess, ready to do battle with her racquet, in a way that recalls the warrior nature of Serena or perhaps the way they would play tennis in Wakanda.

On Tuesday evening, Ben Shelton finished off an epic match against his friend, Frances Tiafoe, to reach the semifinals — the first time two Black men have met in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. After the match, I asked Shelton how he’d felt during it. He said, “I remember walking to get my towel in the fourth set and I’m thinking, ‘This is the greatest moment on a tennis court in my life, and I’m in a lot of pain. But I’m loving it.’ And I think that was the story of tonight.”

Shelton is only the second Black man to reach the U.S. Open semis since Arthur Ashe in 1972. The other Black man in that conversation is Tiafoe.

Their Tuesday night battle was more highly anticipated than any match in the tournament so far. The air before and during their battle was electric. Shelton vs. Tiafoe felt like something of a heavyweight title fight. It was two great, hard-hitting power players standing there trying to knock each other out. 

But it was a fascinating clash of styles — Shelton’s bold power game against Tiafoe’s steady resilient style. Shelton’s a gambler who will rip the ball as hard as he can — many times it lands in, but sometimes it flies way out in spectacular fashion. Tiafoe is much more controlled, patient and methodical, trying to avoid mistakes. This match was also a clash of people at different places in their lives — Tiafoe is the veteran who’s No. 10 in the world while Shelton is the newcomer in his first year on the tour. 

Ben Shelton of the United States hits a forehand against Francis Tiafoe of the United States in the quarter-finals of the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 05, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Frey/TPN/Getty Images)

Shelton is the hot new phenom of tennis. He’s just 20 and he’s already a star because he’s got the energy of a joyful boy yet the game of a strong man. He crushes his serve and forehand, making the ball rocket off his racquet. Seeing Shelton unleash his most powerful strokes is an amazing sight. 

Throughout the match, every time he went to serve, there was a spark in the crowd. You could hear people thinking, OK this is going to be the time when he unleashes a bomb. He’s gonna crank that serve up to 140 mph or 145 mph or maybe even faster, and I’ll get to tell everyone that I was there to witness the fastest serve ever. It’s like when everyone is hoping that Steph Curry unleashes a super long three or when Barry Bonds rakes another home run. When Shelton goes to serve, the whole stadium is on edge. Everyone except, of course, for Tiafoe.

Tiafoe is strong and smart and very tough to beat. He was steady and valiant throughout the match but withered under the attack of Shelton’s power shots. 

Shelton is on the verge of becoming a bona fide tennis star, someone people clamor to watch because they love that he hits the ball frighteningly hard and plays with so much joy. He radiates charisma. He’s got puppy dog energy and a lightning-bolt serve, and he smiles when he makes mistakes like he’s a kid playing a game. He will soon enough be a national star.


Touré is a host and Creative Director at theGrio. He is the host of the docuseries podcast “Being Black: The ’80s.” He is also the host of the podcast “Toure Show” and the podcast docuseries “Who Was Prince?” He is the author of eight books including the Prince biography Nothing Compares 2 U and the ebook The Ivy League Counterfeiter.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!