San Francisco Chronicle

Unheralded Shelton one of three U.S. men in quarterfin­als

- By Howard Fendrich

MELBOURNE, Australia — Ben Shelton’s concerns leading into his first Australian Open had less to do with playing tennis and more to do with everything else associated with the trip.

His first time outside of the United States. His first time using a passport. The jet lag. The time difference. The food. The driving on the left side of the road. And, oh, yeah, keeping up with online classwork as he begins a semester while pursuing a business degree.

A year ago at this time, Shelton was attending classes and competing in college tennis at the University of Florida, where his dad, a former pro himself, coaches the men’s team. As of Monday, when he edged J.J. Wolf 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-2, Shelton, 20, is suddenly and stunningly a Grand Slam quarterfin­alist — one of three American men to make it that far at Melbourne Park, the most since 2000.

“Definitely a surprise. I got on the plane with no expectatio­ns,” Shelton, who won the 2022 NCAA singles title, said of his performanc­e. “It maybe has helped me a little bit, kind of not having that expectatio­n or the feeling that I have to perform, but being able to just go out there, be myself and play free.”

Now the 89th-ranked player meets another unseeded American, 35th-ranked Tommy Paul, who eliminated No. 24 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5. Their matchup will be the first Slam quarterfin­al between two men from the U.S. since 2007, when Andy Roddick beat Mardy Fish in Melbourne.

“It’s like every person’s dream when they start playing tennis to play the big matches at the Slams,” said Paul, a 25-year-old from New Jersey. “I’m really excited to get out there on Wednesday. We know there’s going to be an American in the semis, so I’m really excited about that, too.”

The third American is Sebastian Korda, who plays his quarterfin­al Tuesday against No. 18 Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Briefly: Also in the men’s quarterfin­als are Novak Djokovic, the 21-time Grand Slam champion, who looked indomitabl­e during a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 22 seed Alex de Minaur; No. 5 Andrey Rublev, who put away No. 9 Holger Rune 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (11-9) . ... Advancing in the women’s draw Monday were Magda Linette — into the quarterfin­als of a Slam for the first time at age 31 and in her 30th appearance at a major — Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Donna Vekic.

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