“I Feel Kind Of Prepared What’s To Come Mentally And Physically … At A Grand Slam” | Ben Shelton’s On-Tour Education Continues

20-year-old American tennis player Ben Shelton is learning on the job and so far the results are good. Shelton advanced to the fourth round of the US Open on Friday with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over Aslan Karatsev. He is the youngest American men’s player ranked inside the top-50 and a run in NYC will loom large in his young career.

Shelton started the year off hot advancing to the quarterfinals in his first appearance at the Australian Open, where he lost to fellow American Tommy Paul in four sets. Paul will be Shelton’s opponent in Sunday’s fourth-round match.

“I’m really happy to be into the next round obviously. Ecstatic. Glad that I had a chance to be in a position similar to this earlier in the year,” Shelton said after winning his singles and mixed doubles matches on Friday.

“So I feel kind of prepared what’s to come mentally and physically, being able to play on a big stage at a Grand Slam against the exact same guy I’m going to be playing next round. Feel fortunate I got that experience.”

Shelton Picked Up Tennis Late

At 6 feet 4 and 195 pounds Shelton is a big strong athlete with a booming serve that routinely touches 140 mph-plus. His second serve has a lot of kick, and he is powerful off both the forehand and backhand wings. He is quick and has good hands, so he is comfortable at net as well.

The would be college junior is just getting started and should be able to add more spin and touch to his game as he matures.

Despite having two parents that were accomplished tennis players — mom Lisa Witsken Shelton was a highly ranked junior player and dad Bryan was a pro player and head coach of the University of Florida men’s team — Ben didn’t start playing tennis until he was 12.

That’s late by top pro standards.

Early Success Followed By Struggles

But he’s taken to the family business so to speak and within just a year on the professional tour he’s cracked the top 50. He was in the top 40 after his run in Australia.

Shelton struggled after the early season success in Australia. Until this week he hadn’t put together consecutive match wins since the year’s first major. Maybe some of that had to do with the clay court season, which is a surface he hasn’t played a ton on in his young career.

Maybe it was the reality that everyone on tour is good, so it’s going to take more than talent to win. Something he discussed on Friday.

“Yeah, I think it’s not about always hitting through the guy that you’re playing. I’ve kind of found being out here on tour, everyone is really good at hitting the ball. You hit it hard, hit it the same speed, guys can play and they can play really well. I think having some variety and mixing things up is something that’s important for me and my game style.”

Sunday’s match against Paul will be another test for Shelton to see what he’s learned since the last time they played and how quickly he can assess a situation and make changes in a match.

“Yeah, I think that was a match where I was a little unsure of what to expect. I hadn’t really been in that situation before, quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, on Rod Laver, packed stadium,” Shelton said when asked about playing Paul in Australia.

“I think I panicked a little bit, pressed early in the match, and he kind of got on top of me and was the frontrunner from there. I hope to do a little bit better job of that this time around.”

That tough loss is part of the education and journey for young Shelton. When you play the top-10 and top-20 in the world you cannot afford to have your level dip. If it does, you have to find a way to mentally hang tough until you get your game back.

These are all lessons you learn over time and with years of match experience. It continues for Shelton on Sunday and we will see what he’s learned so far.

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