Rising stars from the United States feature prominently in the men’s side of the Australian Open draw, making up three of the eight players who have reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
According to the ATP, this is the first time since 2000 – when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Chris Woodruff reached the quarter-finals – that three American players have advanced to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
The most surprising – and certainly the least well-known – name of the three is 20-year-old Ben Shelton, who before heading to New Zealand and Australia in preparation for the first Grand Slam of the year had never even been in outside the United States.
A hard-hitting southpaw, Shelton is only playing 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 so far in Australia mean he is rapidly closing in on a top-50 spot.
“He’s a big server, he’s got an amazing forehand where he can really pressure opponents and dictate players around,” former professional tennis player and current commentator Barbara Schett told CNN Sports.
“He’s a southpaw, which is a big plus, and he’s got that lightness in him.”
Shelton certainly has the perfect background to help him succeed, as his father, Bryan Shelton, played tennis professionally on the ATP Tour, winning two titles, reaching a career ranking of 55 in the world and making the doubles final. mixed French. Open.
However, Shelton Sr. – who has been a successful coach in the United States since retiring – initially struggled to convince his son to play tennis, with Ben favoring American football as a youth.
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 Tour.
“He has a great combination of being so intense on the court and then he has his dad, Bryan Shelton, who was a player on the Tour for many, many years and it seems like he [Ben] has the right mindset and he knows exactly what he’s doing there,” Schett said.
“It’s very refreshing to see someone so young and new.”
Shelton’s first major breakthrough on the ATP Tour came at the Cincinnati Masters in August 2022, where he beat world number one. 56 Lorenzo Sonego and went on to claim the first win of his career against a top five player, beating Casper Ruud in straight sets.
Shelton’s first taste of Grand Slam action came soon after, losing in the first round of the US Open in a grueling five-set match against Portugal’s Nuno Borges.
However, he ended 2022 on the Challenger Tour with aplomb reaching four finals out of six tournaments, winning three of them to end the year in the top 100.
Shelton had a mixed start to 2023, losing in qualifying at the Adelaide International before picking up another victory over a top 50 opponent by beating Sebastian Baez in the first round in Auckland.
Despite the promise he showed, few would have predicted the remarkable run Shelton has since had 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 to adjust to Australia from the United States with the jet lag, time change and everything.
“It was my first time, I had never been out of the United States, I knew it was going to be a fight. So I think that maybe helped me a little bit to not have that expectation or the feeling that I have to play, but to just be able to go out there and be myself and play freely.
“I think that’s been a big contribution to my success.”
The Atlanta native claimed his first Grand Slam victory by defeating China’s Zhang Zhizhen in five sets, before defeating Chilean Nicolas Jarry and then Australian Alexei Popyrin in straight sets.
On Monday, Shelton cruised through another brutal five-setter against fellow American JJ Wolf – another rising American talent – to secure his place in the quarterfinals, where he will face another American in Tommy Paul.
Paul, who is an established top-50 player with an ATP title under his belt, was ranked No. 28 in the world 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 continuing his dream run Down Under.
The 2023 season already looked like a promising year for American tennis, but the emergence of Shelton has only bolstered an exciting group of young future stars.