Shelton outplays Tiafoe to win second career title in Houston

Ben Shelton won the trophy at the Houston Open on Sunday evening against Frances Tiafoe.

Shelton Houston 2024 Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic
Fayez Sarofim & Co. U.S. Men's Clay Court Championship •Final • completed
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Top seed Ben Shelton defeated No 3 seed Frances Tiafoe 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to win the Houston Open tournament at River Oaks Country Club on Sunday evening.

The title is Shelton’s second on the ATP Tour in his career, and first-ever on clay. With the win, he now moves to a career-high of No 14 in the world.

“My dad won this tournament in 1992,” said Shelton in his victory speech. “He had that one up on me, and I had to get one back on him today. Thanks for being a trail blazer, showing me the way.”

The final in Houston was also the first contested between two African American men on the ATP Tour in history.

High-quality final sees Shelton have the edge

In what was only the second meeting between these two at the highest level, Shelton yet again prevailed – just.

Last time Shelton and Tiafoe met was in the US Open quarter-finals in 2023. Shelton prevailed in four sets, but not without Tiafoe having the opportunity to push the match to a fifth set.

Sunday’s match was similar, in that both men had chances, and Shelton was the one who came out on the right side of the result. Just three breaks occurred across the two hour, 16 minute match, with both men dominating on serve.

Shelton left it until late to seal the opening set, coming up clutch in the 12th game to steal the set with a break of Tiafoe’s serve. In response, Tiafoe rose to the challenge, pouncing on a loose Shelton service game to break in the third game of the second set. He held onto the advantage and closed out the set, levelling the match at 1-1.

Just when it seemed like Tiafoe had the momentum, Shelton clawed his way back into the match. From 0-30 down in the opening game of the third set, Shelton powered back to win his serve with a brace of aces and winners, before going on to break Tiafoe in the fourth game of the deciding set. With the finish line in sight, he held his nerve to claim the title in Houston.

Tiafoe and Shelton react to victory

Since their last meeting, both Tiafoe and Shelton have been on different trajectories. Tiafoe has fallen out of the world’s top 20 and has a losing record over the past seven months, while Shelton has reached a career-high of No 14 in the world and has now won two ATP titles.

“It’s been a really tough year and being here in the finals is really great,” said Tiafoe after the match. “Sucks we couldn’t get it done, screw you, Ben. Would have been cool to get number four, but we’ll get that soon enough. Let’s really build on this and have a good ’24.”

In response, Shelton was gracious, saying, “First of all, I’m going to take the high road here and say great week Foe. Great job to you and your team. Sorry this one stings and you didn’t go back-to-back titles. You’re that type of player who can go back-to-back.

“You’ve been such an inspiration to kids, people of colour in our sport. Just an amazing representation,” he continued. “You’ve been that guy to always put on for us, be selfless, thinking about others, kids younger than you. Thanks for everything that you do for our sport, and people that look like you and me.”

Shelton, ranked No 16, beat Belgian Zizou Bergs (3-6, 6-4, 6-3), Brandon Nakashima (7-5, 7-6 (9)) and Argentinian Tomas Martin Etcheverry, the No 4 seed (6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-4) in the previous rounds of the Houston tournament.

Earlier in the tournament, Tiafoe, ranked No 21, beat Australian James Duckworth (6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-5), Australian Jordan Thompson, the No 6 seed (7-6 (8), 6-4) and Italian Luciano Darderi (6-2, 7-6 (2)).

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