NCAA Champ Shelton Earns Win In Masters 1000 Debut
Ben Shelton has had a knack for peaking at the crucial moments in his college career, earning the title-clinching match win for the University of Florida at the 2021 NCAA Championships and finding top form at the 2022 individual championships to claim the singles title in May.
Since then, the 19-year-old has reached two ATP Challenger Tour finals and two semi-finals in his native United States. He also earned a win in his tour-level debut last month in Atlanta before a third-set tie-break loss to John Isner, who was full of praise for his young countryman post-match.
On Tuesday at the Western & Southern Open, Shelton rose to the occasion in his ATP Masters 1000 debut, thrilling the home crowd on Porsche Court. On the right side of a three-setter against Italy's Lorenzo Sonego, the wild card scored a 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5 win in two hours, 52 minutes. The victory moved him inside the Top 200 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and set up a second-round showdown with fifth seed Casper Ruud.
"It means a lot [to get my first Masters 1000 win]," he said post-match. "I was really grateful for [tournament director] Eric [Butorac] giving me a wild card here. I'm really happy that I get to play my first one here in the United States. It's an amazing atmosphere here and it was a lot of fun today, so I'm excited for Round 2."
Shelton, who earned a US Open main-draw wild card by way of his NCAA singles title, downed Sonego by claiming his lone break of the match in its final game following a rain delay of nearly an hour. In the opening set, the American could not convert on six break chances midway through the set, but he took the tie-break after not facing a break point on his own delivery.
Despite two love service holds in set two, a mid-set slip-up on serve cost him the set. Shelton saved break points in consecutive service games early in the decider before striking the final blow with heavy baseline hitting.
"I thought that when I went back out on the court I had a good plan of attack and I was happy to be able to get that first break," added Shelton, who said he changed clothes, listened to music and worked with his strength coach to get ready for play during the rain delay.
Ranked World No. 547 in May when he won the NCAA singles title, Shelton now sits at No. 197 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and can move as high as No. 170 with a win in the second round.
"That's awesome," he said upon hearing the news. "I didn't realise that, but it's cool that I made the Top 200. That's definitely a checkmark for me, so I'm glad that I'm moving in the right direction."
Did You Know?
Shelton is coached by his father, Bryan Shelton, who is the Florida men's tennis head coach and a former World No. 55.