Ben Shelton was in no mood to be downcast after falling to Tommy Paul Wednesday in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.
Having reached the last eight in just his second Grand Slam appearance, the #NextGenATP American reflected happily on his performances at Melbourne Park this fortnight — as well as the valuable lessons learned from his stellar run.
“I think it was a great experience,” said Shelton after Paul prevailed 7-6(6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in an all-American quarter-final clash. “It was fun to be out there, my first quarter-final of a Grand Slam.
“I thought I played alright. Some things that I could do better, things that I would maybe do next time if I could do differently, but I’m pleased with the result, this being my first time at the Australian Open. So, [I’m] taking a lot of positives away from it.”
This fortnight, Shelton defeated Zhang Zhizhen, Nicolas Jarry, Alexei Popyrin and J.J. Wolf in a dream Melbourne Park debut. The 20-year-old, who a year ago was ranked No. 569 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and still a University of Florida college player, had never left the United States prior to this trip to Australia. That made it a journey of discovery for the American both on and off the court.
“The crowds have been pretty unbelievable,” said Shelton. “They supported me. I definitely didn’t expect it coming into this tournament, being an American. They kind of treated me like one of their own. It was really fun to be able to play with the support behind me during my matches. [I had] a lot of smiles about that.
“I definitely exceeded my expectations this week, what I thought I could do on the court — not just tennis-wise but physically being able to get through as many three-out-of-five-set matches as I did. I mean, I’ve only played one before in my career. I was pretty pleased with myself in that aspect as well.”
The novel experiences will keep coming for Shelton in the 2023 season. Now up to No. 43 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, he will likely have the opportunity to compete in the ATP Tour’s European clay-court and grass-court seasons for the first time. Just as he did in Australia, the lefty is ready to take on new challenges.
“I’m really looking forward to the clay,” said Shelton, who has trained but never competed on red clay. “The grass as well. I think that the clay is coming first, so that’s what’s on my mind first.
“I think that my game is really well-suited for the clay. I’m looking forward to be able to use the higher bounces to my advantage, moving, sliding. I’m really looking forward to getting on the red clay, and the grass as well.
“Obviously, [they will be] new experiences for me, playing those tournaments that will mostly be outside of the United States. I’m really looking forward to it. I have confidence that I’ll be able to figure it out.”
Another aspect of life on Tour that Shelton may have to get used to is taking on his fellow Americans on the biggest stages in the world. He is set to join nine of his countrymen in the Top 50 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday, and the 20-year-old is happy to feed off the buzz that currently surrounds American men’s tennis.
“I was just in the treatment room getting worked on by my physio [and] my coach Dean [Goldfine] came in,” explained Shelton. “We were talking a little bit about American tennis. I was like, ‘I don’t see why at the end of this year we couldn’t have five, six guys in the Top 20 with the way that some of these guys are playing that aren’t inside the top 20 right now’.
“Jenson Brooksby, Sebastian Korda [who made the] quarter-finals here. So many other guys that haven’t been named as much this week that have had huge breakthrough years in the last couple years.
“I think there’s a lot of hope for American tennis. I’m really looking forward to being a part of it.”