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Frances Tiafoe (left) and Ben Shelton


Whoever wins Tuesday’s US Open quarter-final match between Frances Tiafoe and Ben Chilton, history will be made: For the first time, two black men will face each other in a match.

It is also the first time since 2008 that two black men have played each other at Arthur Ashe Stadium. It has been nearly two decades since an American man won the US Open tennis tournament. And while much focus has been on whether 2023 will be the year the drought finally ends, tennis fans are taking a moment to enjoy this historic match.

“This is something special, a cosmic event,” Art Carrington, a former professional tennis player who now coaches the sport, told CNN.

He said that the characters of Tiafo and Shelton would “enrich the game”.

The match between the two rising tennis stars also put a renewed focus on black men playing tennis. Tiafoe, 25, and Shelton, 20, will face each other on a court named after the black tennis legend who broke barriers in the game.

Arthur Ashe was the first African-American man to be ranked No. 1 in tennis and the first to win multiple titles in the sport, including singles titles at the US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon. He was also the first black American to play on the United States Davis Cup team.

It’s important for younger generations to see black men excel at tennis, Carrington, who was once a training partner of Ash, told CNN.

“We have to play tennis where it’s visible, where people can see the (black) people playing,” he said.

He also said that although people know the story of Venus and Serena Williams’ road to tennis, we don’t hear enough family stories about African American men. That’s a high point.”

Tiafoe and Shelton were both surrounded by sports from an early age.

Tiafoe, a child of Sierra Leonean immigrants, and his family lived at the Junior Tennis Champions Center where his father worked as a maintenance worker. A few years later, he joined the tennis clinic at the centre.

In 2022, he becomes the first black American man to reach the semi-finals of the US Open since Ashe in 1972.

Shelton is following in the footsteps of his father, Brian, a tennis champion who won two professional titles and played on the ATP Tour.

Earlier this year, Shelton’s father quit coaching at the University of Florida to coach his son in professional tennis.

For young black Americans, exposure to tennis is essential, Carrington said. He said it was up to the older generations to pass on their love of the game.

But as they prepare for Tuesday’s game, Carrington said that if he was coaching Tiafoe and Shilton, he would ask them not to dwell on the weight of this historic moment.

He said, “Try to enjoy yourself.” “Don’t play with the tension. Let the tension go.”

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