That trip to Melbourne was Shelton’s first time leaving the United States. He has since traveled to Paris for Roland-Garros and London for Wimbledon. He didn’t do as well on red clay and grass, respectively—but as he explained during a press conference in New York: “I wasn’t that comfortable on those surfaces.” Fair, given that his college career was played on hard courts like the U.S. Open’s. His current rank is 47, but with Sunday’s victory, he will now be in the top 30–his best standing yet.
Possessing a capital-B Big game is one thing, but Shelton is also highly likable–an apparent extrovert who engages the crowd. And there’s nothing the New York audience likes more than getting involved. He beams, he roars, he flexes. He flashes a stone cold stare after an ace back at his box. But he knows the importance of centering himself and regrouping: “I maybe take the first three to five seconds after a point to be emotional. And then I shut it down,” he said after his match with Paul.
Tonight, those emotions will likely be running extra hot in what is arguably going to be the most discussed match of the Open: A quarterfinal between two American men, signaling the end of a long drought for homegrown talent. (Another American, the number 9 seeded Taylor Fritz, is in the quarters too.) The Shelton-Tiafoe match up is also significant for another reason: it’s the first major tournament since 1968 to feature multiple Black American men in the quarterfinals.
“Frances as a player is electric,” said Shelton in Queens. “On the court he’s a nightmare to deal with.” He smiled wide, then mentioned Tiafoe had jokingly teased him about looking better in a sleeveless tee (Shelton, Tiafoe and the present world number one Carlos Alcaraz are all rocking sleeveless tops at the tournament.)
“I’m sure there could be a little chirp back and forth once or twice during the match,” said Shelton. “But it’s all friendly stuff. We’re going to compete hard… and I’m 100% sure we’re still going to be friends.”
He told me that he’ll “prepare for the match the same way I prepare for any other match. Listen to a little Central Cee and Meek Mill, and have some lighthearted banter with my team.”
Fans and viewers should expect a showdown–and, no matter the outcome, to hear more of Shelton’s name in the very near future.
“I love pressure moments,” he said. “I fall in love with these moments, and I’m not scared of them.”
Oh, and about the Barbie-core fit: “I am loving the pink. I definitely like to be different with what I wear,” Shelton responds when I asked about his input with On. “Working with a brand that also wants to push the boundaries is great.” He laughed, and continued: “I want to look like Box Office Ben.”