This year at the Australian Open, three of the eight players reaching the quarterfinals are emerging talents from the United States. The ATP reports that it is the first time since 2000 that three American players have advanced to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Chris Woodruff all did that year. The youngest of the three, 20-year-old Ben Shelton, had never been outside the United States until he traveled to New Zealand and Australia to prepare for the first grand slam of the year.
Shelton, a lefty with a strong serve, is only entering his second major tournament. He made his grand slam debut at the year-end US Open in 2022. The 20-year-old is now ranked No. 89 in the world rankings. , a career-high, with his play in Australia so far, he is fast approaching a top 50 spot.
Former professional tennis player and current CNN Sports pundit Barbara Schett said about Federer,
“He’s a huge server, he’s got a great forehand that allows him to really pressure his opponents and boss the players around.”
“He’s a southpaw, which is a great advantage, and he has this lightness about him.”
Shelton’s father Bryan Shelton was a professional tennis player on the ATP Tour who achieved success himself winning two championships, achieving a career-high ranking of 55 in the world and reaching the final of the French Open in mixed doubles.
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Although Shelton Sr. has achieved great success as a coach in the United States after his retirement, he struggled to get his son Ben interested in tennis when he was younger. Instead, Ben was drawn to American football. Ben eventually decided to take up tennis like his father, and spent the first few years of his career improving his skills in college and on the ATP Challenger tour.
Ben Shelton “seems to have the right mindset and he knows exactly what he’s doing there”
because of his father Bryan Shelton, who was a player in the Tour for many years.
“It’s very refreshing to see someone so young and new.”
Ben Shelton has the #AusOpen quarterfinals in his main draw debut 👏
He is the fourth American to achieve this since 1990, alongside Tennys Sandgren, Andre Agassi and Patrick McEnroe. pic.twitter.com/oTkhVolE1u
— ESPN (@espn) January 23, 2023
It was in August 2022 at the Cincinnati Masters that Shelton finally made his breakthrough on the ATP Tour, defeating World No. 56 Lorenzo Sonego and then taking his first career victory over a top five player, Casper Ruud, in straight sets .
Not long after, Shelton got his first taste of grand slam play at the US Open, where he was knocked out in five sets by Portugal’s Nuno Borges. He had a shaky start to 2022 on the Challenger Tour, but finished the year strong, winning three of six tournaments and reaching the final of four.
Despite a rocky start to 2023, Shelton finally won over a top-50 player when he defeated Sebastian Baez in the first round of the Auckland International. Despite his early potential, not many people saw Shelton’s incredible run at the Australian Open coming.
This achievement came as “absolutely a surprise,” he told the press.
“I got on the plane with no expectations. I know it’s very difficult to adjust to Australia from the United States just because of the jet lag, the time change and all that.”
Due to the fact that I had never traveled anywhere other than the United States, I was expecting a difficult experience. That’s why I think it’s helped me a little bit not to have that expectation or the idea that I have to perform, but to get out there, be myself and play freely without worrying about how others see me.
“I think that contributed a lot to my success.”
After beating Zhang Zhizhen of China in five sets, Atlanta native Nicolas Jarry of Chile and Australian Alexei Popyrin both fell in straight sets for the remainder of the tournament. Shelton advanced to the quarterfinals on Monday after surviving five grueling sets against compatriot and rising prospect JJ Wolf.
Next he will face compatriot and top seed, Tommy Paul. Shelton will face his toughest opponent to date at the Australian Open in the form of Paul, a top 50 veteran who won an ATP title. Paul reached a career-high ranking of No. 28.
While Paul is the clear favorite to progress to the semi-finals, a Shelton run like this down under looks unlikely to end anytime soon. The 2023 season in US tennis has already looked promising, and Shelton’s emergence has only bolstered an attractive pool of potential future stars.