After a season of Grand Slam success, Ben Shelton can add ATP Tour semi-finalist to his list of 2023 breakthroughs.
The #NextGenATP American overcame his countryman Tommy Paul 7-6(4), 6-3 on Friday in the quarter-finals at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships. The big-serving lefty delivered a rock-solid display in Tokyo, where he saved six of seven break points he faced to seal a one-hour, 38-minute triumph and set a semi-final clash with another American, Marcos Giron.
“It was definitely a difficult challenge, as it is whenever you play against a guy as talented and as tough as Tommy Paul,” said Shelton. “To be able to get through that with a win, it took a lot of mental toughness. I had to stay calm in the first set, serving for the set and then getting broken and having to finish it in the tie-breaker. It was a difficult task but I’m happy to be moving on.”
Shelton converted both break points he earned in his third Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting with the No. 12-ranked Paul. The pair had split their first two clashes at the Australian Open and the US Open earlier this year, but it was Shelton who found something extra at key moments to improve to 5-8 against Top 20 opponents.
After reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals and the US Open semi-finals, Shelton is now into the last four at an ATP Tour event for the first time with a Tokyo run which has lifted the 21-year-old two spots to No. 17 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. Regardless of whether he progress further in Japan, Shelton is set to eclipse his career-high of No. 19 when next update of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings is released on Monday.
Friday’s defeat dented Paul’s late-season charge towards Nitto ATP Finals qualification. The 26-year-old remains 12th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, 515 points adrift of eighth-placed Holger Rune in the final qualification spot for the prestigious season finale.
Shelton’s semi-final opponent in Tokyo will be qualifier Giron, who continued his impressive run in the Japanese capital with a 6-1, 6-4 triumph against eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Giron rode a lightning-fast start in both sets to an 81-minute win against Auger-Aliassime, who had shown signs of a return to form by reaching his first tour-level quarter-final since May. Yet he could not match the 30-year-old Giron’s consistency in blustery conditions inside Ariake Coliseum. The World No. 79 led 4-0 in the first set and 3-0 in the second, ultimately converting five of eight break points he earned to charge into his maiden ATP 500 semi-final.
“I’m really happy with today’s performance,” said Giron, who held his nerve after losing four of five games in the middle of the second set. “Felix is obviously a phenomenal player, been Top 10 in the world, won a lot of titles. He’s beaten me down pretty good the last few times we played, so coming in today I knew I had to play well and I had to play aggressive.
“It is windy, but I started off really well. In the second set I went up a break and it cooled off, got even windier, and it got a little tricky. He raised his level, but we are professional tennis players, we do this for a living, and we’ve got to be ready for anything that comes our way.”