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Monday, January 30, 2023

On his first trip abroad, Shelton is living the dream.

FeaturedSports NewsOn his first trip abroad, Shelton is living the dream.

Ben Shelton came to Australia for his first international trip with a pretty touristy wish list. The 20-year-old American “wanted to go see some animals… koalas or kangaroos, something like that”.

Koala, check. Wallabies, check. Australian Open quarterfinals, check.

The last part wasn’t part of the plan, a “dream” that he would now take home in addition to the memories of his trip.

Shelton defeated fellow American JJ Wolf 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-2 in the fourth round on Monday to reach the men’s last eight in Melbourne. I joined. In his second Grand Slam. Sure, the draw has been kind to the world No. 89—Shelton outlasted unseeded Zhang Zizhen (Round 1), Nicolas Gerry (Round 2) and Alexey Poperian (Round 3)—but a recently-formed For a pro who was playing his first tournament outdoors. His home country, Salem’s second week isn’t where he’d expect it to be.

The southpaw from Atlanta certainly didn’t when his passport was first stamped in Adelaide earlier this month, where he crashed out in the opening qualifying round of the ATP 250 event. was

“Yeah, definitely a surprise,” Shelton said of his Australian Open run. I boarded the plane with no expectations. I know it’s very hard to adjust to Australia from America… I’m a first timer and have never been out. In the United States, I knew it would be a struggle.

“Maybe that helped me a little bit, not feeling like I had to perform. Just go out there, be yourself and play free.”

Shelton has that game in his genes. His father, Brian, was a former world No. 55 pro. His mother is the sister of Todd Witskin, former world number 4 doubles. Her older sister is on the women’s tennis team at the University of Florida. Shelton was part of the university’s 2021 NCAA men’s championship team and also captured the collegiate singles crown last year. This helped her father, who was the “biggest influence” in her young tennis career, coach her at the University of Florida.

“It hasn’t been an easy road for him, so he knows all the struggles to get him here. To have that knowledge and go to that person is invaluable,” Shelton said.

Turning pro after the 2022 NCAA singles title, Shelton played in 11 Challenger events last year, all in the United States. He won three and made three other finals to jump from a ranking of 547th in May. In his home ATP Tour debut in Atlanta in July, he defeated India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan in the first round before losing to compatriot John Isner. A month later at his first ATP Masters in Cincinnati, the then-ranked 229th Shelton stunned World No. 56 Lorenzo Sonego and World No. 5 Casper Rudd in the opening two rounds.

The promising talent was given a wild card into the main draw of the US Open, where Shelton lost to Portuguese Nuno Borges in the first round in five sets. In the six months from Flushing Meadows to Melbourne Park where her life turned around as dramatically as her first foray outside American shores, Shelton believes her body has undergone the biggest change.

To go with a big serve — he won 82% of his points on the first serve Monday — and a damaging forehand — 26 of his 31 groundstroke winners came from that wing — Shelton took the fifth set against Wolff. I felt “stronger” in my legs, even after riding “several swings throughout the match.”

“I’m in a good place physically, since the last Slam I played at the US Open where I was really struggling after five sets in the heat,” he said. “I’ve worked really hard in the last 5-6 months to get to where I want to be (physically). I’m still not there, but I’m young and I have time. I can make it there.”

He could also make the semi-finals of the Australian Open — he faces another American, Tommy Paul — but he is already enjoying a “pretty special week” in Melbourne. Back home, meanwhile, her school has started. Time to call the professors to get out of it for the week? “It’s just a few assignments here and there — pretty simple stuff,” Shelton said.


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