Player Features

An 'Old School' Triumph: Florida Gators Ever-Present In Shelton’s Historic Year

How the American’s university spirit helped him succeed on the ATP Tour
December 20, 2023
Ben Shelton's iconic phone celebration was inspired by former Florida Gators track star Grant Holloway.
Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Ben Shelton's iconic phone celebration was inspired by former Florida Gators track star Grant Holloway. By Juan Diego Ramirez Carvajal

Ben Shelton left the Florida Gators over one and half years ago to dedicate himself to the ATP Tour, but it seems as if the Gators will never leave Ben Shelton.

His dedication to his alma mater is evident not only in the fact that he continues to study for his business degree remotely, but also in his competitive spirit at the professional level. The passion he showed when he started out as the University of Florida tennis team’s No. 5 singles player, before becoming their No. 1 and a NCAA champion, has never waned.

On the ATP Tour, the 21-year-old left-hander celebrated in 2023 just as enthusiastically as he did when playing for the the Gators, shouting encouragement to himself, fist-pumping while looking at his team, or cupping his other hand behind his ear after winning a point to rouse support from the fans. But the expression that truly harks back to his university-tennis days is the “Vamos!” he sometimes shouts.

“He’s always said it. He copied it from some of us on the team who used to celebrate like that, and he’s said it ever since. It’s one of the few words he knows in Spanish,” his former Ecuadorian teammate Andres Andrade remembers with amusement in an interview with

Ben Shelton further explained: “I had a few Spanish-speaking teammates on my team at Florida who are some of my best friends, and it just became a thing for all of us on the University of Florida team,” he said early in the season.

The Gators’ hallmark was also in evidence during a great year for Shelton with his emblematic celebration en route to the semi-finals of the US Open. After winning his matches, he mimed picking up the telephone, listening for a moment and hanging up. The move was inspired by Grant Holloway, a track star and ex-Gator.

“I think it’s great that he shouts and celebrates with his box all the time like at university,” adds Andrade. “I know he has been criticised a lot for it, but long may it continue.I think it’s good to celebrate like that. It’ll help you win a lot of matches.”

So far, staying true to his Gators roots has helped Shelton claim 29 tour-level singles wins, break into the Top 15 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, reach at least the quarter-finals in two Grand Slams and claim his first title in Tokyo. His short but fruitful time in Gainesville as a student-athlete sowed the seeds of the competitive spirit that led him to a successful first full season on tour.

But it was also key to the growth of his physique and his game. Just ask those who witnessed him progress with every confrontation and the rigour of his preparations with two-hour training sessions from Monday to Saturday, as well as the three weekly gym sessions that started at 6:45 a.m. and ended at midday on the practice court. Neither the fatigue nor his academic commitments were enough to keep him away.

So many demands, combined with his great ambitions, made him improve.

“He’s always been hungry for more,” says Abdullah Shelbayh, another of Shelton’s Gators teammates and a competitor at this season’s Next Gen ATP Finals presented by NEOM. “I remember that he always believed in himself, that he had the opportunity and the game to beat anyone. He was never intimidated by an opponent. I think that’s what helped him have his breakthrough on tour this year.”

That self-belief was even there when he was not the best player on the team, which was led by his father Bryan Shelton, now his coach on tour.

“At the start, when he joined, he wasn’t so good, and you couldn’t see the potential he has now,” adds Andrade. “The first year he played as No. 5 [in the singles lineup]. Then No. 3. I always beat him in practice; I had all the tactics to beat him.

“But then came the summer of 2021,” continues the 25-year-old Ecuadorian. “We all went home and he stayed there for a month practising with his dad. He improved. His body helped. And there was a drastic change. We all said ‘What’s happened?’

“I could hardly ever beat him again. He got quick, grew, and matured very fast. He became an athlete. Since then he’s had everything. And his serve is the most special thing he has. He also improved it a lot with the team.”

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One thing that remained unchanged during Shelton’s meteoric rise with the Gators was his off-court attitude. His feet remained firmly planted on the ground and he always maintained a friendly relationship with his teammates. He is still the same wise-cracker they hung out with on the beach 40 minutes from the university, at the team dinners he planned with his father to strengthen the group’s bond, and in the stands supporting the Gators in American football and basketball.

“Ben is a very friendly and funny guy,” added Shelbayh, Jordan’s 20-year-old World No. 196. “We get on very well. I really enjoyed my time with him in Florida. That’s why I think what he’s achieved this year is great.”

Andrade spoke along similar lines: “Everyone has always really loved him. He doesn’t feel superior to anyone. His father is a very respectful gentleman. Ben is too.” According to Andrade, Shelton’s recent success on the ATP Tour has done nothing to change that.

“I still see him in the same way, as a friend I can write to on WhatsApp when I feel like it,” he shared.

Remembering where he came from has perhaps been more determinant for Shelton than having any idea where he is going. He is currently grinding in the preseason in preparation for the 2024 ATP Tour season.

Where? At the facilities of the University of Florida, with the Gators’ colours still flowing in his blood.

Editor's note: This story was translated from

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