The story of the surprising Ben Shelton: the reasons for the undercover who “snuck” into the top eight of the Australian Open

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Among the eight best players of the Australian Open 2023 slipped one that, until five months ago, was a total unknown in the ATP circuit: Ben Shelton. The 20-year-old American was the big revelation in the final stretch of last season -when he reached the third round of the Cincinnati Masters 1000, in his second competition at the top level- and he extended his big moment in Melbourne, where , In the early morning on Monday, Argentina beat its compatriot 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4) and 6-2 JJ Wolf and made it to the quarterfinals.

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So far a story that doesn’t seem very different from those of many players who manage to make it on the circuit. However, the Atlanta native started his career at a breakneck pace and with a twist. He took the first, and for many the most difficult, big step, the leap into the top 100, without having played in any tournament outside of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The tour he is contesting in ocean lands meant his first trip to compete outside his home country.

At the end of May 2022, Shelton was closing out his sophomore year at the University of Florida winning the singles title ncaa, the college league of the United States. Up until then, he’d only played a handful of tournaments in the ITF World Tour (formerly Futures) e challengers -all on North American soil- and was outside the top 500 of the rankings (he had added his first ATP point in June 2021). So, he decided to take advantage of the summer holidays to pick up the pace by competing with the best. And it didn’t take long to start breaking down barriers.

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In early July, he played his first Challenger Final, in Rome, Georgia. Weeks later, already in 281st place in the standings, he entered the ATP 250 in Atlanta as a wild card, his absolute debut at that level, and reached the second round. At the end of August, he received an invitation to cincinnatiin which they reached the round of 16 with a sensational 6-3, 6-3 victory against the Norwegian Casper Ruud, at that time, number five in the world. And although he later clearly lost a Cameron Noriehe greeted with an unprecedented vote: he was the first defending NCAA champion to win a game in a Masters 1000, in the same season he won his varsity title.

Subsequently, when he had already announced his decision to leave college tennis and start his professional phase, he played his first Grand Slam tie in New York, also thanks to a wild card, and fell in the first round. And he finished the season with three consecutive challenger titles, in charlotteville (Virginia), Knoxville (Tennessee) e Champagne (Illinois). That last consecration allowed him to enter the top 100 of the ranking for the first time: on November 21st he appeared at the 97th passage. Everything, without leaving the territory Yankee and without ever having set foot on a clay or grass court.

That result revealed the vast difference between the path American players have to take to reach the elite and that faced by, for example, Argentines. The number of tournaments of all categories that the United States hosts each season allows its tennis players to score points and achieve results, such as entering the top 100, that no blue and white racket – or from other nations with less development of that sport – he could get away with playing solo tournaments in his country.

Juan Manuel Cerundoloone of the great talents of the new albiceleste generation, for example, already had stamps from Turkey, Bosnia Herzegovina, Tunisia, Sweden, Hungary, Finland, Italy, the United States, Austria, France and many others in his passport, as well as several adventures in the South America, when he placed in the top 100 for the first time, in October 2021, at the age of 19 and months after winning his first, and so far only, ATP title in Córdoba.

“I wasn’t a great player growing up as a teenager. I was more focused on other sports. I didn’t have the same level as other 13, 14 or 15 year olds even later in the juniors. My parents didn’t “I don’t want to spend money on travel abroad. of the country and will play other tournaments. I also didn’t have much room to miss classes during my studies, the ITF calendar is quite similar to the ATP” Shelton explained a few days ago.

Shelton’s accelerated growth, however, isn’t just due to that “geographic ease” to compete. The American has an innate talent inherited from his father Bryan, who reached the 55th step of the ATP ranking, was a two-time champion in Newton and is now his coach. Although during his time in Melbourne, Ben admitted that for a long time he had not thought about making a career with racket.

“The first twelve or thirteen years of my life, I swore I’d never play tennis. It was my dad’s thing. But I fell in love with the sport,” he said with a big smile, who before hitting the ball yellow, tried basketball and American football.

He is left-handed like Nadal, but has Federer as his great idol. He has an explosive serve, a forehand that hurts a lot from the baseline and an excellent two-handed backhand. But his best qualities are his maturity and his mentality to remain firm and focused in the most difficult situations and to understand that, in his career, he has to go step by step, two strengths in which his father had a lot to do.

“It’s teaching me that it’s not about a quick transition to circuit, but rather a long process. It’s about thinking long-term, not immediate results,” he once commented. “He’s been the biggest influence on my tennis. It’s great to be able to learn from him and the life experiences he’s had.”

Your first trip abroad

After ending 2022 on the rise – and on the 96th step of the rankings – Shelton decided to pack his bags and go on tour, for the first time. With his confidence high and motivated to keep growing, he landed in Oceania.

He started his 2023 with a loss in the ATP 250 qualy by Adelaide against the Australian James Duckworth. Then she received an invitation to play aucklandwhere he defeated in his debut Sebastian Baez (41st) and said goodbye in the second round against the French Quentin Halis. That performance allowed him to reach his best finish, 89th place.

And in Melbourne it became one of the big surprises of the first Grand Slam of the year. In her second main draw appearance by a “big man”, she debuted with a five-set win, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 2-6 and 7-6 (10-4), against the Chinese Zhizhen Zhang, 96°. He fired the Chilean in the second round Nicholas Jarry, coming from the qualy, from 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3) and 7-5. removed the venue Alexei Popyrin, host of the organization, for 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) and 6-4. And then at the Wolf, to move on to the quarterfinals, where he will clash with another compatriot, tomi paolo.

“I feel great. It’s been a very special week for me. It’s my first Grand Slam outside the US and I’m enjoying it a lot,” he commented after his latest win in Melbourne, which kicked off distance lessons this week. year at the University.

“This was a real surprise to me. I got on the plane a couple of weeks ago with no expectations. I knew it would be difficult to adjust to the schedule and the jet lag. This is my first time leaving the United States and I knew that i would have left would have cost me, maybe having no expectations made me play more freely, every game i played i felt the same way, a mixture of joy and relief, i have that feeling of ecstasy. having made this four times in a row it was incredible,” he added. .

Will Shelton continue to advance on Australian hard? Perhaps. But whatever happens in the next round, this Australian Open is already a success for him and he has made it clear that, beyond the ease he had in starting his career as an American, he is now ready to shine in his own light. And on fields anywhere in the world.

Source: Clarin

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