Ben Shelton: Leaping into the Big Time
Team World’s newest addition, Ben Shelton, has shown just how partial he is to the big stage with his first international trip yielding a quarterfinal finish at the Australian Open in January.
The 20-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia, made headlines in Melbourne as the youngest American man to reach the last eight at a major since Andy Roddick’s 2002 US Open run at the same age.
Shelton went one better in September when he defeated Vancouver teammates Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe to reach the semifinals at Flushing Meadows before falling to Novak Djokovic, thus becoming the youngest American US Open semifinalist since Michael Chang in 1992.
As a result, he jumped 28 places on the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and sits at #19, America’s fourth highest-ranked player leading into Laver Cup Vancouver 2023.
“Ben Shelton will bring that college, team environment,” says US No.1 Taylor Fritz. “He thrived playing college tennis. That energy will definitely be there and pump everybody up for sure, I think he’ll be performing his best in this environment.”
Paul, his friend and rival, couldn’t agree more. “Ben’s electric,” he says.
“I think he’s going to be great. He’s had experience in college, so he’s very familiar with the team atmosphere and I think he’s going to be a great addition to our team.”
Shelton is coached by his father, Bryan, a former pro tennis player from Alabama who won two singles titles and achieved a career-high No.55 singles ranking in 1992. He introduced his son to tennis at the age of 10 after exposing Ben to a range of other sports. Bryan left his coaching position at the University of Florida after 11 years to travel with Ben, who turned pro in 2022.
“I played pretty much every sport growing up and I really got hooked on American football,” said Shelton, who competed for the Florida Gators and helped them win a first team national championship in 2021, and a year later, the NCAA men’s singles title.
“I switched to tennis a little bit later than most people but I fell in love with the game and began to train every day.”
How it’s going
Shortly after turning pro, Shelton won a match at the ATP 250 in Atlanta and pushed World No.25 John Isner to three tight sets in the second round. A few weeks later he upset Casper Ruud at the Cincinnati Masters, and broke into the Top 100 in November 2022, ending the year with three consecutive Challenger titles.
His sensational run at Australian Open 2023 led to another rankings surge to No.35 in May. Since then Shelton has been steadily adding to his match-win tally, and seized the attention of sports fans around the world with an inspired run to the semis in New York.
“I kind of found a place where I can operate and still be calm and still be clear-minded but be a fierce competitor and get after the guy I’m playing at the same time be a dog out there, have a dog mentality,” he said after playing Djokovic.
Shelton at the Laver Cup
Shelton is super-pumped to be selected for Laver Cup and was motivated to shine at the US Open ahead of his debut on Captain John McEnroe’s team.
“It’s going to be a really cool experience for me to be able to learn from two legends like the McEnroe brothers and be a part of Team World,” he says.
“I have a lot of friends playing in the team and I’m really excited to be a part of this event that’s kind of legendary in the tennis world. Something that everyone aspires to be a part of. To be able to get the call up, to be able to compete for the team this year, I’m really excited.
“I really enjoy team competitions, the team atmosphere, being able to interact with your teammates on the sidelines, seeing some of these guys that we only see as players kind of acting as coaches during the match, I think that’s a really cool aspect.
“I think my level of tennis gets even better when I have teammates on the side cheering for me, so hopefully I can feed off that energy and use it to my advantage.”