According to the ATP, this 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 trio is 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. was
A big-hitting lefty, Shelton is playing in just his second major, with his first Grand Slam appearance at the US Open in late 2022.
The 20-year-old currently boasts a career-high ranking – world No. 89 – and his performances in Australia so far mean he is fast breaking into the top 50.
“He’s a big server, he’s got an incredible forehand where he can really put pressure on his opponents and command players around,” Barbara Sheet, a former professional tennis player and current commentator, told CNN. told Sports.
“He’s left-handed, which is a big plus, and he has that 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, a career-high ranking of 55 in the world. reached and gave the French a place in the mixed doubles final. open
However, Shelton Sr. – who has been a successful coach in the States since retiring – initially struggled to convince his son to play tennis, with Ben favoring American football as a teenager.
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 has a great combination of being intense on the court and then having his dad, Brian Shelton, who was a player on the tour for many years and seems to [Ben] He has the right mindset and knows exactly what he’s doing out there,” Sheet said.
“It’s refreshing to see someone so young and new.”
Shelton’s first major breakthrough on the ATP Tour came in August 2022 at the Cincinnati Masters, where he defeated world no. 56 Lorenzo Sonego and then Casper Rudd in straight sets to earn his first career win over a top-five player.
Shelton got his first taste of Grand Slam action soon after, losing in a tough five-set match to Nuno Borges of Portugal in the opening round of the US Open.
However, he finished 2022 on the Challenger Tour with success by reaching the finals of four out of six tournaments, winning three of them to end the year in the top 100.
Shelton had a mixed start to 2023, going on to claim another win over a top 50 opponent by beating Sebastian Baez in the first round in Auckland before losing in qualifying at the Adelaide International.
Despite the promise he has shown, few would have predicted that Shelton has since enjoyed a stellar run at the Australian Open.
“Definitely a surprise,” he told reporters of his success. “I got on the plane with no expectations. I know it’s very difficult just adjusting from the US to Australia with the jet lag, time change and everything.
“This being my first time, never having been out of the U.S., I knew it was going to be a struggle. So I think maybe that helped me a little bit to not have the expectation or the feeling that I had to perform. to demonstrate, but just to be able to go out there, be yourself and play freely.
“I think that’s been a big part of my success.”
The Atlanta native earned his first Grand Slam win by beating China’s Zhang Zhizhen in five sets, before defeating Nicolas Jarry of Chile and then Australia’s Alexi Poperian in straight sets.
On Monday, Shelton went through another brutal five-setter against compatriot JJ Wolff – another rising US 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 high as world No. 28 and will be Shelton’s toughest test yet at the Australian Open.
There’s no doubt that Paul will be the favorite to reach the semifinals, but it would be hard to bet against Shelton to continue his dream.
The 2023 season was already looking like a promising year for American tennis, but Shelton’s emergence has bolstered an exciting group of young stars of the future.