Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe are Laver Cup kings
Ben Shelton and Frances Tiafoe competed against each other in one of the matches of the US Open earlier this month, with Shelton winning a historic quarterfinal showdown between Black Americans in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On Sunday, the two men joined forces on the doubles court to clinch the 2023 Laver Cup for captain John McEnroe's Team World in Vancouver. Between them, Shelton and Tiafoe were responsible at least in part for nine of their team's 13 points on the weekend. Both players went 3-0 at the Laver Cup, with one singles win and two doubles triumphs.
In a team that also included Americans Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul and alternate Chris Eubanks, Shelton and Tiafoe led the way. McEnroe's victorious squad also featured Felix Auger-Aliassime, Francisco Cerundolo and alternate Milos Raonic.
"It's been crazy for me and I've enjoyed being in a team environment," Shelton said after a sparkling Laver Cup debut. "I've enjoyed playing for Johnny Mac. Team World really brought the energy this week. It's easy for me to play when I'm amped up and hyped and the bench has done a great job of hyping me up all week. I hope I've done a good job of hyping them up too. Playing with Frances speaks for itself, easiest guy to play with, most fun guy to be on court with."
Shelton set the tone on Friday with a 7-6(4), 6-1 win against fellow debutant Arthur Fils in the event's opening match. That evening, Tiafoe teamed with Tommy Paul in doubles to complete a Day 1 sweep for Team World.
Their roles were reversed on Saturday, when Tiafoe picked up a 7-5, 6-3 singles win against Hubert Hurkacz before Shelton and Auger-Aliassime won in doubles.
With the stakes raised on Day 3, when three points were on offer for each victory, Tiafoe and Shelton clinched the Laver Cup with a 7-6(4), 7-6(5) win against Hurkacz and Andrey Rublev.
Tiafoe has now clinched the Laver Cup for Team World in each of the last two events, after Team Europe won the trophy in the first four stagings of the competition. Given his recent success, it's no surprise that the American plans to be a mainstay for McEnroe's squad going forward.
"Laver Cup is definitely a staple every year for me. It's an event I want to make, first and foremost, and another thing where I want to win," Tiafoe said. "Obviously last year we clinched it for the first time, a collective effort. It was an unbelievable experience... It was awesome. We all did it together, and it was so big and so big for the event.
"I think Rog [Roger Federer] and Rod [Laver] and everybody who else is involved did a great job of putting this event together. I think this event needs to have more and more emphasis and get the best players in the world playing. It really is an unbelievable event."
Tiafoe entered Vancouver as world No. 11, one spot off his career high of No. 10, first achieved in June. Shelton rose to a new high of world No. 19 after his US Open semifinal run, which backed up a quarterfinal showing at the Australian Open earlier this season.
In between those two successful major appearances, Shelton did not record consecutive singles wins on the ATP Tour. But McEnroe did not hesitate to select the powerful 20-year-old, who previously thrived in a team environment during his time at the University of Florida.
Shelton proved his doubters wrong with five wins in New York, and he continued to repay his captain's faith in Vancouver.
"[I hadn't won] back-to-back singles matches. I had some success in doubles, and so that's definitely something that gave me some confidence going into this event," he said after his Day 2 doubles win. "That's singles and doubles, confidence that I could put points on the board for the team and that I had been pretty fine-tuned in doubles throughout the year.
"In terms of singles, sometimes it only takes one. I'm still trying to find my way out on tour. I don't think I'm perfect at all or found my game exactly the way I want to, but it's a lot of new experiences, different places and surfaces I have never played on, but being here in North America, indoor hard court with a huge crowd, it feels like home to me."
After guiding his team to the most dominant win in Laver Cup history, McEnroe summed up the weekend like only he can.
"It was an awesome week. We kicked some [butt], baby. That's what we did," he said. "So we're already thinking about next year, because winning is a whole lot better than losing. We struggled the first couple years, and now we have tasted winning and it feels good."