Hey, Flushing Meadows! Ain’t That America?

They call it the US Open, but for many, many years, there have not been all that many US citizens who have competed for its title.  Indeed, save for the Williams sisters, there has only been one year this century that has featured American women–the outlier year of 2017 where Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys faced off, with Stephens emerging as the unlikely winner.  Last night, Keys, now 28, took one more huge step toward a potential second chance, as CNN’s Thomas Schlacter chronicled:

The American cruised past her opponent with a 6-1 6-4 victory – much to the delight of the US fans at Flushing Meadows.

Keys stamped her authority on the occasion with a dominant start to the quarterfinal matchup. The 28-year-old won the opening five games of the match and looked in complete control.

After Keys took the first set 6-1, the second set was a much more competitive affair. The world No. 17 eventually broke Vondroušová’s serve in the ninth game of the second set to help seal a 6-1 6-4 win.

“I think I have had just a really good mindset going into the matches. Have been trying to be maybe just a little bit more emotionally balanced,” Keys said on her US Open success postgame.  After breezing past the world No. 9 in just an hour and 26 minutes, Keys has set up a semifinal matchup with Aryna Sabalenka. Keys will face Sabalenka on Thursday evening following the conclusion of Coco Gauff’s match against Karolína Muchová.

And Gauff, the de facto darling of this tournament, will try to make her first finals appearance, all of 19 years of age, trying to become the first American teenager this century to have that opportunity, as NBC Sports reported Tuesday:

Coco Gauff swept Jelena Ostapenko to become the youngest American to reach the U.S. Open semifinals since Serena Williams won her first major title at the 1999 U.S. Open.

Gauff, 19, eliminated the 2017 French Open champion from Latvia 6-0, 6-2 to reach her second major semi after her runner-up at the 2022 French Open.

“I didn’t feel comfortable at all the whole match,” Gauff said, despite Ostapenko’s struggles (36 unforced errors to 12 winners, two days after stunning No. 1 Iga Swiatek with 31 winners to 20 errors). “Even on the match points. I know the game she plays, she has ability to come back no matter the score line.”

But for as compelling as those storylines are, the unanticipated emergence of an American men’s semifinalist that occurred in yet another post-midnight Flushing adventure early Wednesday morning may be the cherry on this particular sundae.  As THE NEW YORK POST’s Andrew Crane reported:

Shelton stood early Wednesday morning, at the center of the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after his four-set win over No. 10 Frances Tiafoe, holding an imaginary phone to his ear, listening for a moment and then slamming it down on an imaginary receiver.

Shelton described the call — to Tiafoe, maybe, or to anyone who doubted a 20-year-old American could reach the U.S. Open semifinals — as being “dialed in.”

Unseeded and ranked 47th, Shelton had already captivated spectators with his powerful serve, rallies and energetic celebrations as Tuesday turned into Wednesday.

It’s an entirely different emotion than Shelton’s father and coach, Bryan, shows, Stump added, but the duo has paired together for an improbable U.S. Open run that will continue Friday against No. 2 Novak Djokovic.

And after this stretch, which included Shelton making history alongside fellow American Tiafoe in the first U.S. Open quarterfinal featuring two black men, it won’t be long before his current ATP ranking skyrockets.

Shelton is a prohibitive underdog against the determined Djokovic, who, after being denied the chance to compete last year thanks to last year’s COVID-19 vaccine policy, is once again trying to tie the all-time record for Grand Slam victories of any human being (24, currently held by Margaret Court).  Joker vaunted ahead of Rafael Nadal to pull into the lead among men by winning at Roland Garros at the French Open earlier this year.  But then again, he was also an underdog against the more polished and hyped Tiafoe, and yet, he came out victorious nonetheless in that historic showdown.

But if Shelton should indeed advance, he will be attempt to become the first Black male to win a US Open since the first of the Open era, 55 years ago.  Won by someone whose name adorns the very stadium he will be competing in.

So yes, wave those American flags for more than just a futile way to ty to beat the stifling humidity and heat that Flushing Meadow Lake can offer this time of year.  For the first time in many years, the U.S. Open can indeed belong to the U.S.


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