Four American men are set to play in the fourth round of the U.S. Open for the first time in more than a decade, and two of them will square off on opposite sides of the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Tommy Paul, the No. 14 seed, and Ben Shelton will duke it out Sunday afternoon for a chance to compete in the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows for the first time in each of their respective careers.
There is familiarity and camaraderie between the two young Americans, but only one can advance to meet either their compatriot Frances Tiafoe or Rinky Hijikata of Australia.
“We played doubles together in Miami,” Paul said of himself and Shelton, “so we were warming up together a bunch there. I’m sure he’s seen me play a bunch and I’ve seen him play a bunch. We know each other’s game pretty well.
“I’m happy to see him doing well this week. Should be a fun match, you know? I think everyone is excited about both of us right now. I’m excited for that matchup.”
This will be the second meeting between Paul and Shelton. The last time they went head to head, Paul won 7-6 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January. That match marked the first time two Americans had met that late in a major since Mardy Fish faced Andy Roddick in the same round in Melbourne in 2007.
It has been roughly eight months since then, and both players have taken strides in their game. Paul, in particular, has been solid in the lead-up to the U.S. Open. The 26-year-old previously made it to the semifinals of the Australian Open and posted a second-round finish in the French Open.
So far in New York, Paul has lost four total sets and has won 54 percent of the points he has played. The expectation is that Paul will have an edge over Shelton, whose best result of the year was reaching the semifinal in the Sardegna Open in Cagliari, Italy.
Shelton’s strong service game — which was on display in his third-round match in the form of 26 aces and one 147 mph serve — is not to be underestimated. The 20-year-old Shelton has conceded just two sets in the tournament to win 55 percent of the points he has played.
“I think our games are pretty different,” Paul said. “Overall, we have very different games. He’s a serve-and-first-ball guy. He does it really well. He volleys pretty well. I’d say that’s probably our similarity that we like to find the net. But, for me, I’m going to try and make it a little bit longer than serve and first ball. That’s my whole goal in the match.
“You know, he brings a lot of energy. I kind of like to keep it mellow. We’re not, like, too similar on the court. Should be a pretty fun matchup.”
The pressure is on for an American male player to end the 20-year drought since Andy Roddick won the U.S. Open in 2003. Each of the four remaining men representing the United States have heard more than enough about that.
Paul, Shelton, Tiafoe and top-ranked American Taylor Fritz are all one step closer.
“Every time I pass one of the TVs here, it’s, like, ‘Is an American going to win a Slam for the first time, 20 years?’ ” Paul said. “You see a lot of it. I’m just really excited to play every match. Like, I’m doing things I have never done.”