Ben Shelton, the 20-year-old American with the blazing-fast serve, stormed into the U.S. Open semifinals with a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over fellow American Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday, officially cementing him as the latest new rising star in U.S. tennis.
Shelton will next face Novak Djokovic, the No. 2 seed and 23-time Grand Slam champion, in Friday’s semifinals. Shelton is the youngest American man to reach a major semifinal since Andy Roddick in 2003 and the youngest at the U.S. Open since Michael Chang in 1992.
Who is Shelton, and how did we get here? Get to know him below.
The semifinals are calling, Ben Shelton! pic.twitter.com/1jI9JimZcU
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2023
Where did Shelton come from?
The son of two tennis players, the Atlanta-born Shelton was more into football as a child before ultimately changing sports. He attended the University of Florida, where he was coached by his father, Bryan, and went 65-10 in two seasons for the Gators, winning the 2022 NCAA singles title.
Shelton turned pro late in 2022 and showed his first hints of future success with two wins at the Cincinnati Masters that year, one over 56th-ranked Lorenzo Sonego of Italy and the other over fifth-ranked Casper Ruud of Norway. But he still entered 2023 as a relative unknown, ranked just inside the top 100 after racking up points mostly on the second-level Challenger Tour.
Has he done anything like this before?
Just about. He made the quarterfinals at this year’s Australian Open in January, losing to fellow American Tommy Paul, though he made it that far without beating any seeded players as upsets peppered his section of the draw. His run in New York has now gone one round further and featured two wins over top-15 seeds (No. 14 Paul and No. 10 Tiafoe), plus one (albeit via a retirement) over a former Grand Slam champion, Dominic Thiem.
Outside of Melbourne and New York, though, Shelton’s results have been poor. He has gone just 8-20 in all other events in 2023.
How did he get to the semifinals?
Ranked 47th going into the tournament, largely on the strength of that Australian Open run, Shelton was unseeded and beat another unseeded player, Argentina’s Pedro Cachin, in the first round. In the second round, he advanced over Thiem, the 2020 U.S. Open champion who has struggled with injuries since that triumph, when Thiem was forced to retire early in the second set due to illness. Shelton then took out unseeded Aslan Karatsev in the third round before getting revenge on Paul in the fourth round.
After that came Tuesday’s thriller against Tiafoe. The two were the last American men left in the draw after No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz lost earlier in the day to Djokovic. Now, only Shelton is left.
What’s his game?
The headliner is the serve, which combines top-line speed that can hit over 140 mph with a mix of speeds and spins to keep returners guessing. But the left-hander is also an athletic force, can fly around the court, and is more than capable of smacking heavy forehands and cutting pinpoint volleys. He can also whip bending forehands that bring visions of another famous left-hander: Rafael Nadal.
He’s also a roller coaster of youthful exuberance and, often, overly aggressive and inconsistent play. The Ben Shelton Experience was exemplified Tuesday in the third-set tiebreak against Tiafoe when, serving for the set at 6-5, Shelton double-faulted, then double-faulted again to give Tiafoe a set point at 6-7. But Shelton leaned back and ripped a forehand return winner into the very edge of the corner to make it 7-7, got the next point off Tiafoe’s serve too, then finished it off on his serve to take the tiebreak 9-7.
Ben Shelton finds a way to win the tiebreaker and pivotal third set. pic.twitter.com/SpviyJn3jv
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2023
Can he beat Djokovic?
They’ve never met, so there’s no historical precedent to go on, but that serve always gives him a chance. At least when it’s on — Tiafoe broke him four times Tuesday, and Paul did it three times in the fourth round. The crowd will be on Shelton’s side in the semifinal, but he’ll need to show a level of consistency beyond his years against the toughest of opponents. Djokovic’s experience, case full of trophies and strong return game will make him a heavy favorite.
What does this run mean for him?
Even if he loses to Djokovic, Shelton will gain 710 ATP rankings points for this performance after losing in the first round last year. That’ll be enough to vault him into the top 20. A win over Djokovic would put him in the top 15. A U.S. Open title could put him in the top 10.
Novak Djokovic, 16 years after he won over the U.S. Open, is letting his play be the show
(Photo: Corey Sipkin / AFP via Getty Images)