Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition
Ex-Gator Shelton aims to build on Aussie Open run
GAINESVILLE — Ben Shelton never questioned whether he belonged, but having everyone else realize it is an important step in a fledgling professional tennis career seemingly on the fast track.
Shelton’s recent run to the Australian Open quarterfinals drew attention worldwide and generated excitement back home about the former Florida Gators star, along with the future of American men’s tennis.
“It was a really cool confidence boost to be able to go there my first time and compete with some of the best in the world on one of the biggest stages,” Shelton told the Orlando Sentinel. “I was able to see how I stacked up against the top guys.”
Shelton will test his game again beginning Monday at the Delray Beach Open against Marco Giron during the round of 32.
Seeded for the first time at an ATP Tour event, Shelton (No. 8) suddenly is one of the top guys in a nation striving to return to prominence in the men’s game.
Ranked No. 41 worldwide, Shelton is among eight Americans in the top-50, including No. 19 Tommy Paul. The 25-year-old ended Shelton’s run in Melbourne 7-6 (8), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 and is in Shelton’s side of the draw at Delray Beach.
Top-seeded Taylor Fritz, No. 8 worldwide, is the favorite on the other side.
The wave of top Americans is a welcome sea change in a sport lacking them since the days of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi 20 years ago, and before them John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors four decades ago.
Bryan Shelton, Ben’s father and his coach at UF, reached No. 55 in the world when Agassi, Sampras and later Andy Roddick were forces.
“We’re definitely moving into a new era here,” Ben Shelton said. “We’re going to continue moving up, so I’m really excited for where American tennis is going and it’s pretty cool to be a part of it.”
The 20-year-old left-hander decided to join the fray last summer after he weighed returning to school against turning pro.
Having won a national title in 2021 and NCAA singles title in 2022, Shelton had nothing really left to prove or accomplish.
“The whole thing for me was if I was ready — not just as a player but as a person — to take on tennis as a full-time job,” he said. “Toward the end of the summer I started to prove to myself that I was ready to make that jump. But I was definitely heavily considering coming back to the University of Florida.
“Either way, I had a win-win.” Shelton continues to reside in Gainesville and train with his father, who juggles responsibilities with the Gators and his son.
Bryan Shelton and his wife, Lisa, spent several sleep-deprived days due to the 16-hour time difference. Shelton actually met his wife in Australia.
“Being about to watch our son compete on that stage was just surreal,” Shelton said. “You think about where he was a year ago, two years ago and then see him at the Australian Open, and the run he had there was pretty special.”
Ben Shelton also trains with Dean Goldfine, his traveling coach based at the USTA Campus in Lake Nona.
Before tennis’s major championship season resumes at the French Open, Shelton will push to improve his fitness, return of serve and play at the net.
Yet he also seems to be ahead of schedule. This week in Delray Beach, Shelton aims to continue his rise.
“To be already the top 50 in the world is just incredible,” Bryan Shelton said. “You just couldn’t have imagined that he’d be at this place so soon. I have a world of confidence in my son. I thought eventually he’d get there, but not this soon.”