Jacksonville Sports Day

U.S Open: Riffice, Shelton Represent University of Florida at Tennis Major

Sam Riffice (Photo by Emily Felts | The Independent Florida Alligator)

FLUSHING, N.Y. – The University of Florida’s men’s tennis team had two Gators represent the university at the US Open Men’s Tennis Championships.

Senior Sam Riffice earned a wild card bid into the main draw after winning the NCAA Singles Championship back in May, while sophomore Ben Shelton acquired a wild card into the doubles main draw and singles qualifying draw after winning the doubles competition and getting to the singles finals at the USTA Boys’ 18s National Championship in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Shelton unfortunately had to withdraw from doubles due to COVID-19 protocols, but not after winning his first match in the qualifiers.

Shelton made it to the second round of singles qualifiers after a gutsy performance against Michael Mmoh in the first round of play. Mmoh, who is No. 181 in ATP rankings and is also in the doubles main draw, gave Shelton some tough competition. But Shelton never faltered..

Thanks to his powerful serve and relentless efforts, Shelton took the match in two sets, forcing a tiebreak in both, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5), over two hours of play. He won 85 total points to Mmoh’s 81, while tallying 12 aces to Mmoh’s five. In the first set alone, Shelton collected seven aces and 44 points, while totaling fives aces and 41 points in set two.

In the next round, Shelton was paired against 6-seed, Botic Van de Zandschulp (No. 117 ATP). Shelton took care of business in the first set, winning it 6-3, and picking up a couple of aces en route to the first-set victory. He took Van de Zandschulp to three sets before dropping the hard-fought match in the following two sets, 7-5, 6-4.

Shelton brought the No. 117 player in the world to the wire in those three sets, keeping the match close up until the very last point was won. Van de Zandschulp would go on to win his third-round match and advance to the main draw of singles play.

Riffice made the most of his first US Open main draw appearance. Paired against 15-seed Grigor Dimitrov, who is No. 18 in the world and was once ranked as high as No. 3 a few years ago, Riffice didn’t back down from the first-round fight. Dimitrov would take the first set, 6-1, but Riffice did not make it easy.

He took the No. 18 player in the world to a second-set tiebreak.

To begin the set, Dimitrov went out to an early 2-1 lead, but Riffice responded by winning two games in a row to go up 3-2. Dimitrov would tie it back up at 3-all, but Riffice retook the lead, 4-3, after winning the long rally.

The set would go back-and-forth as Dimitrov would tie, then Riffice would retake the lead every other game until a second-set tie break ensued. After battling the entire set, Riffice would fall in the second set to Dimitrov, 7-6 (3).

In the third set, Dimitrov went out to an early 4-1 lead, but Riffice kept the pressure on the 15-seed after finding the corner on a forehand shot to cut the lead in half, 4-2. Dimitrov was up 5-2, but Riffice found a way to win the next game and close the gap at 5-3, highlighted by a beautiful volley to get the advantage in the set. Dimitrov came back to win the third set and claimed the match, 6-3, but not after Riffice challenged him in a tough battle.

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