for Ben Shelton, the absence of travel shapes youth

“He has incredible talentsaid his compatriot John Isner of him, after his victory at the ATP tournament in Atlanta, in July 2022. I hope I never have to face him again, because I don’t see how I could beat him again. » Ben Shelton was then ranked 281e world player at 19, was playing his first ATP tournament, and had forced the American giant to work to qualify for the third round (7-6 [10-8]4-6, 7-6 [7-3]).

Seven months later in Melbourne, and as Ben Shelton travels for the first time outside the borders of the United States, his opponents crossed during the first week of the Australian Open might have preferred, like John Isner , do not confront it. The young player, very promising, will face in the round of 16 another American, Jeffrey John Wolf, on the night of Sunday to Monday.

A year ago to the day, while the best players on the professional circuit met in Australia for the start of the season, Ben Shelton, he only occupied the 569e global place. A year later, he qualified for the second week of the Australian Grand Slam tournament, for his second participation in a Major after his invitation to the US Open in 2022.

An invitation granted by the American federation thanks to the good results of Ben Shelton a few weeks earlier, in the heart of summer, at the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati. The young American had achieved the feat of eliminating the fifth world player and finalist of Roland-Garros, Casper Ruud, in two sets (6-3, 6-3), in the second round.

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Ben Shelton didn’t take up tennis until late. Son of Bryan Shelton, former professional player – 55e for best ranking in 1992 – Ben Shelton had first chosen American football, before stopping because he was not strong enough to withstand the shocks. At 12, he finally decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, who became his coach. “I swore I would never play tennis. It was my dad’s thing. Then I fell in love with this sport, and here I am. Hopefully I can make a career out of it”he laughed, on the court, after his victory at 3e tour in Melbourne.

89e worldwide without leaving the United States

Ben Shelton becomes United States college singles champion in 2022. “It’s nice that my dad is a former pro. It helps because he knows what it takes to get there, he explains. What my father taught me was to trust the process, not to be impatient and want short-term results. »

Always on the advice of his father, the young prodigy only plays tournaments in the United States, a country large enough to organize many ATP, Challenger (the second level of world tennis), or ITF (the third level) tournaments, during all season. But the young left-hander only cut his teeth there from 2021.

“Before, I was in school and I couldn’t go away for long periods to play tennis. The international federation and the ATP [circuit professionnel] organize tournaments over a week, while the American federation does it over three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, so I could more afford to miss a day of class before coming back »he explains.

And if he decided, in 2022, to study finance remotely to become a professional, Ben Shelton continued to play tournaments only on his land. “There were foreign players who beat me every week, so my father wanted me to improve in the United States first. I was not the best nationally, so there was no reason to play in other countries.he justifies.

At 20, Ben Shelton therefore used his passport for the first time to travel to Australia. “I have never even left the country for a vacation”he replied, on Twitter, to a Portuguese journalist, who was surprised at the possibility, for a player, of being ranked 89e worldwide without having ever played a tournament abroad.

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Naturally, the American found himself in difficulty for his first match in Australia, in Adelaide, where he was eliminated in the first qualifying round on December 31, the fault of the time difference. “I had never experienced a delay of more than three hours before, so I did not feel very well when I arrived in Adelaide, he confides. I had to find my legs. It came back the second week in Auckland, and now I feel good. »

“If he continues like this, the guy is top 10 in six months”

With a place in the round of 16 in Melbourne, Ben Shelton has already equaled his father’s best Grand Slam performance in 1994 at Wimbledon. He will try to do better against his compatriot Jeffrey John Wolf, before reaching, perhaps, the quarter-finals, where he could find another American, Tommy Paul, opposed to the Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the eighth.

With eight representatives in the third round, and four qualified for the second week, Uncle Sam’s tennis holds great promise to finally find a successor to Andre Agassi, the last American winner of a Grand Slam tournament, at the Open from Australia in 2003.

“If he keeps playing like this, the guy is top 10 in six months. He is a player to be honestly counted on, claimed his third-round victim in Melbourne, Australian Alexei Popyrin. He hits the lines, he has an average second serve at 120 mph, you can’t do much to attack his second serve, and it’s even harder because he’s left-handed. »

Thanks to his good career in Australia, Ben Shelton is at least guaranteed to climb to 65e place in the world, but the next Grand Slam tournaments, at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon, will represent challenges for him, since in his young professional career he has only played one tournament on clay, and none on grass.

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