Top seed hits 11 aces to claw past Tiafoe in final

Ben Shelton arrived in Houston with a 2-7 tour-level record on clay and a five-match losing streak on the surface. The top-seeded American will leave the Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship with the trophy.

Shelton on Sunday battled past defending champion Frances Tiafoe 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to triumph at the ATP 250 event. The 21-year-old became the youngest champion at the tournament since 19-year-old Andy Roddick in 2002.

“Great week Foe. Great job to you and your team,” Shelton said during the trophy ceremony. “I know this one stings, sorry you didn't go back-to-back titles, but you're that type of player who can go back to back. I want to see you do it again this year, hopefully in Stuttgart.”

The two Americans are close friends and this was their second Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting after last year's US Open quarter-final, which Shelton won in four tight sets. Both men worked hard to find an advantage in the match, looking to take the initiative from one another during rallies.

But while they were intense in their shotmaking and overall play, they also enjoyed some lighthearted moments, cracking a smile towards the other side of the net after fun points and they engaged the crowd throughout.

“You've been such an inspiration to kids, people of colour in our sport, just an amazing representation,” Shelton said. “You've been that guy to always put on for us and always be selfless, thinking about others, kids younger than you. So thanks for everything that you do for our sport and people who look like you and me.” 

Shelton’s father, former No. 55 in the PIF ATP Rankings Bryan Shelton, encouraged and coached his son throughout the week. Now both members of the Shelton family own two ATP Tour singles titles.

Ben has quickly become known for his booming first serve and that stroke proved the difference on Stadium Court. The former University of Florida standout hit 11 aces and won 83 per cent of his first-serve points according to Infosys ATP Stats to triumph after two hours and 16 minutes.

Shelton will climb to a career-high No. 14 in the PIF ATP Rankings on Monday, making him the No. 2 American behind only World No. 13 Taylor Fritz. 

Tiafoe, who was a set from successfully defending his title, will leave Houston with his head held high. The former World No. 10 struggled to a 7-7 start this year, but found his rhythm after clawing through a tough three-setter to begin his tournament against James Duckworth.

“It's been a really tough year and playing a final has been really great. It sucks we couldn't get it done. Screw you Ben!” Tiafoe joked, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “It would have been cool to get number four. We'll get that soon enough. Let's really build on this and let's have a good '24.”

Did You Know?
Shelton won three three-setters en route to his first clay-court title on the ATP Tour. The American earned his maiden tour-level trophy last year in Tokyo, an ATP 500 hard-court event.