Ben Shelton’s dream debut at the Australian Open keeps getting better. The #NextGenATP American advanced to the fourth round on Saturday when he defeated home favourite Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-4.
“It feels great,” Shelton said. “I said on the court that it’s a pinch-me moment. Unreal experience out there on the court today with that Aussie crowd. It was a lot of fun to be out there, and I’m happy to be moving on.”
The 20-year-old saved all four break points he faced to become the fifth man to reach the Round of 16 on his Australian Open debut in the past 10 years. The fourth player to accomplish the feat, J.J. Wolf, did so earlier in the day and will also be Shelton’s next opponent.
One year ago, Shelton was No. 569 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and still in college at the University of Florida. The lefty was not yet in the top spot of his team’s lineup.
But Shelton has quickly proven himself one of the most dangerous players on the circuit, with his serve and aggressive game proving tough for all opponents to deal with. Despite this being his first trip outside the United States, Shelton has made himself at home in Melbourne, embracing the crowd at the year’s first major.
Shelton called his parents right after the match. His father, former World No. 55 Bryan Shelton, was also Ben’s coach at the University of Florida.
“He was definitely excited. It’s like 5:40 there, and they have a match today, the team does. So I think I messed up his sleep schedule a little bit,” Shelton said, cracking a smile. “He still has his analytical mind going and talked to me about the things that I did really well today and the few things that I could have done a bit better. So, yeah, he was happy overall.”
The American hit 34 winners and made just 25 unforced errors against Popyrin, who had upset Top 10 star Taylor Fritz in the second round. He converted two of his eight break points and won 87 per cent of his first-serve points to triumph after two hours inside John Cain Arena.
“I told myself that I wanted to give myself more of a green light today when I played, not be as hesitant in the middle of the points but really go for my shots a bit more and be okay with some errors and know that it was going to pay off in the long run,” Shelton said. “I thought I stuck to that plan today and executed really well.”
Shelton cracked the Top 100 for the first time in November 2022, and is now No. 65 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. His next opponent, Wolf, defeated countryman Michael Mmoh 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 earlier in the day.
“We’re good friends, like to joke around a lot, have a lot of locker room banter. So he is a good guy,” Shelton said. “Definitely excited to be able to play him, and I think it’s a match that the crowd will for sure enjoy.”