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Ben Shelton hasn’t won anything on the professional level. In fact, the young American has a losing singles record of 20-23 since turning pro in 2022 and is barely a Top 50 player in the world rankings.
Every tennis player who has ever made a name for themselves has had to start from somewhere, however, and Shelton has managed to have his moment of arrival on one of the biggest stages in the sport, in New York City at the U.S. Open.
While Shelton isn’t just some no-named 20-year-old from Atlanta, Georgia – he did win a national championship at the University of Florida in 2022 – not many saw a run to the semifinal of a Grand Slam coming this early on for an unseeded player who was ranked 433rd in the world just 14 months ago.
The chatter about Shelton in the U.S. Open was certainly a thing as he earned his way to a fourth-round matchup with fellow American Tommy Paul. That chatter became more of a shout when he took the first two sets en route to a four-set win over the 14-seeded Paul.
Ben Shelton Embraces The Adversity In Win Over Frances Tiafoe
The win over Paul set up one of the more enticing matchups between two American men we’ve seen in quite some time with Shelton taking on Frances Tiafoe, who is not only a fan favorite but a player who reached the semifinals in last year’s U.S. Open.
Tiafo was rightfully the significant favorite heading into the match given his world ranking, experience, and dominance of left-handed players over the years. This felt like the moment Shelton’s fire was going to run out, with an opportunity for Tiafo to teach the ‘kid from Atlanta’ a lesson in Grand Slam tennis.
Shelton and his insanely live left arm had different plans.
The 6-foot-4 Shelton came out with all of the energy imaginable making quick work of the opening set 6-2. Tiafoe, as expected, answered the call and knotted things up with a 6-3 second-set win before adversity hit Shelton squarely in the mouth in the third set.
In the tiebreak, Shelton had set point with the ball in his hand but double-faulted tying things at 6-6. After a change and an opportunity to flush the missed opportunity, Shelton double-faulted again giving Tiafoe set point.
Here it was, the moment Shelton’s inexperience was going to rear its ugly head and Tiafoe was going to take advantage of it.
Shelton said no, not today, as he pounced on Tiafoe’s second serve with one of the most-wicked forehands you’ll ever see.
They may as well have shut off the lights inside Arthur Ashe after Shelton denied Tiafo the set point. He ultimately went on to win the tiebreak 9-7 and carried the momentum into a 6-2 fourth-set win to earn a spot in the semifinals.
Shelton is the youngest American man to play in the semifinal of the U.S. Open since 1992. That feat, along with his 140+ mph serve, proves that he has joined the likes of Taylor Fritz, Tiafoe, and Paul as an American star.
Ben Shelton Earns A Shot At The King
He could go from star to legend with a win on Friday over the greatest to ever do it, Novak Djokovic.
While no player really has anything going for them as they take the court against The Joker, you could argue that Shelton actually does.
He wasn’t supposed to be here. Every tennis analyst in the world had penciled in a Tiafoe-Djokovic semifinal matchup when the U.S. Open draw came out, which makes this the definition of a free shot for Shelton against the 23-time Grand Slam winner.
Maybe the 20-year-old is just confident and naive enough as you have to be when taking on Djokovic to actually make things interesting.
The one guarantee heading into Friday’s match is that Shelton will continue his gameplan of going 110% at every first-serve and forehand that comes his way. He only has one gear, and it’s one Djokovic has seen plenty, but there’s the slimmest of chances that this could be the inevitable moment of Father Time finally reminding Djokovic that he is unbeaten.
Follow Mark Harris on X @ItIsMarkHarris