Ben Shelton emerges as US tennis’ latest star during dream Australian Open run
According to the ATP, it is the first time since 2000 – when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Chris Woodruff reached the last eight – that three Americans have reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
The most surprising – and certainly the least known – of the three is the name of 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who had never been outside the US before traveling to New Zealand and Australia to prepare for the year’s first Grand Slam. .
A big-hitting lefty, Shelton is playing in his second major, with his first Grand Slam appearance at the US Open at the end of 2022.
The 20-year-old currently holds a career-high ranking – world number 89 – and his performances so far in Australia mean he is quickly moving into the top 50.
“He’s a big server, he’s got an incredible forehand where he can really pressure his opponents and command players around,” Barbara Shett, a former professional tennis player and current commentator, said. told CNN Sports.
“He’s a left-hander, which is a big advantage, and he has this lightness about him.”
Shelton certainly has the ideal background to help him succeed, as his father, Brian Shelton, played tennis professionally on the ATP Tour, winning two titles, reaching a career-high ranking of 55 in the world and the French Made the mixed doubles final. open up
Although Shelton Sr – who has been a successful coach in the States since retiring – initially struggled to convince his son to play tennis, Ben favored American football as a youngster.
Ben eventually decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and spent the early years of his career developing his game in college and on the ATP Challenger circuit.
“He also has a good combination of being intense on the court and then he has his dad, Brian Shelton, who was a player on the tour for many years and it seems like he [Ben] He has the right mindset and he knows what he is doing out there,” said Shett.
“It’s so refreshing to see someone so young and new.”
Shelton’s first major success on the ATP Tour came at the Cincinnati Masters in August 2022, where he defeated world No. 10. 56 defeated Lorenzo Sonego and then Caspar Rudd in straight sets to earn his first career win over a top-five player.
Shelton got his first taste of Grand Slam action shortly after losing in five sets against Portugal’s Nuno Borges in the opening round of the US Open.
However, he had an impressive year-end ranking in the top 100 on the Challenger Tour in 2022, reaching four finals out of six tournaments, winning three of them.
Shelton had a mixed start to 2023, losing in qualifying at the Adelaide International before picking up another win over a top 50 opponent by defeating Sebastian Baez in the first round in Auckland.
Despite the promise she has shown, few would have guessed that Shelton has enjoyed a stellar run at the Australian Open.
“Definitely a surprise,” he told reporters of his success. “I boarded the plane with no expectations. I know it’s very difficult just adjusting from the United States to Australia with the jet lag, time change and everything.
“This being my first time, never having been outside the United States, I knew it would be a struggle. So I think it’s probably helped me a little bit that there’s not that expectation or that I have to perform, but to be able to go out there, be myself and play freely.
“I think that has been a big contributor to my success.”
The Atlanta native defeated China’s Zhang Zhizhen in five sets to win his first Grand Slam, before defeating Nicolas Jarry of Chile and then Australia’s Alexey Poperin in straight sets.
On Monday, Shelton came through another brutal five-setter against compatriot JJ Wolff — another rising American talent — to secure his place in the quarterfinals, where he will face another American in Tommy Paul.
Paul, an established top 50 player with an ATP title under his belt, is ranked as world No. 28 and will be Shelton’s toughest test yet at the Australian Open.
Paul will undoubtedly be the favorite to reach the semi-finals, but it will be hard to bet against Shelton to continue his dream Down Under.
The 2023 season was already looking like a promising year for US tennis, but Shelton’s rise has strengthened an exciting group of future young stars.