US Open: Who is Ben Shelton? The 20-year-old carrying home men’s singles hopes at Flushing Meadows | Tennis News

A match-up of the new wave versus the old takes place in the US Open men’s singles semi-finals on Friday. The young hotshot against the old master as Ben Shelton takes on Novak Djokovic for a place in the final at Flushing Meadows.

Shelton has already shown glimpses of his talent since turning professional last year, notably reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on his grand slam debut in January and is now carrying the hopes of the home crowd in New York.

Standing in his way of a first major final appearance, however, is 23-time winner Djokovic and ahead of that match-up, we take a look at who the 20-year-old American making waves in New York is…

From the gridiron to following his family

It was American football which was Shelton’s first sporting love despite his family connections to tennis. His father Bryan and uncle Todd Witsken both played tennis professionally, while mum Lisa Witsken Shelton was a highly-ranked junior player and his sister Emma played in college.

There was never any pressure on Shelton to take up the sport himself though and in his formative years his only exposure to it was monthly hit-arounds with Bryan, who by that point had transitioned into coaching college teams.

Yet having played for his middle school’s football team as quarterback, he decided to switch and follow in the family tradition at the age of 12. In those eight years, he has made rapid progress through the junior, college and lower professional levels to rank 47th in the world.

Bryan has been by his side for most of that journey, notably coaching him in college, with Shelton committing to play for the University of Florida Gators while studying for a finance degree on Father’s Day in July 2020. Not that dad ever went easy on him, but the left-hander would not have it any other way.

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Highlights of Ben Shelton’s 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7) 6-2 win over Frances Tiafoe in the quarter-finals of the US Open.

“He was definitely tougher on me, he made sure everyone on the team knew that I was in line, and if I messed up, I was getting in trouble the same as them if not more,” Shelton told ESPN last year. “I had to earn my spot in the line-up even more so than anyone else.

“I would much rather people say to me that ‘Oh, you’re playing so well, you should be playing higher in the line-up’ than, ‘Why are you playing so high in the line-up, is it because your dad is the coach?'”

A rapid rise

Until this year’s Australian Open, Shelton had never played outside the USA. He wanted to head overseas to take part in ITF Junior tournament at the age of 16, but his father asking him “Why do you need to travel abroad when you’re not the best here?” kept him focused on the job in hand.

In 2021, he helped the Gators win the National Collegiate Athletics Association men’s team championship for the first time. The following year he was crowned NCAA men’s singles champion, and finished the year ranked No 1 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association along with being named their player of the year.

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Ben Shelton reflected on how far he’s come in his short professional career.

After turning professional last year and continuing his degree studies online, Shelton became the youngest player to win three ATP Challenger Tour titles in as many weeks and is now showcasing his skills on one of tennis’ biggest stages.

“It’s been a lot of new experiences and opportunities, and I’ve been fortunate to learn so much,” Shelton told Sky Sports, reflecting on his first year as a professional.

“All of the results haven’t been perfect or positive, but knowing I’m improving and getting those experiences will help me a lot in the future.”

History made, but more to follow?

Shelton’s 6-2 3-6 7-6 (7) 6-2 US Open quarter-final win over compatriot Frances Tiafoe marked the first time since 2005 that two American men had met in at this stage of the tournament, and the first time two African-American men had clashed in the last eight of a major since the Open era began in 1968.

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Highlights of Novak Djokovic’s quarter-final win against Taylor Fritz at the US Open.

No American male player has won a Grand Slam since Andy Roddick’s triumph at Flushing Meadows in 2003 either, when Shelton was just 11 months old, and the youngster is the last remaining hope of ending that 20-year run for the host nation.

But he is fully aware of the size of the task he faces to down reigning Australian and French Open champion Djokovic in his first meeting with the Serbian, who is aiming to add to the three US Open titles he has already won during his career and lift the trophy for the first time since 2018.

“I think whenever you play somebody for the first time and someone who has been in this situation so many times and come out victorious so many times, that’s in the back of your head,” Shelton said following his win over Tiafoe.

“You just know how rock solid the guy is and how mentally tough, how physically tough. So that’s definitely something that I have to game-plan for.”

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