Ben Shelton ticked off another milestone in his breakthrough season on Tuesday at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, where he upset World No. 4 Jannik Sinner 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.
The 21-year-old, who reached the semi-finals at the US Open in September, hung tough in a heavy-hitting clash against Sinner. The American struck the ball with ferocious power, firing 15 aces to earn his biggest win by Pepperstone ATP Ranking.
"This is a pretty crazy atmosphere," Shelton said. "To think that a year and a half ago I was in college and a year ago playing Challengers, now I am on centre court in Shanghai with the crowd singing happy birthday. It is one of those pinch me moments.
"I had a lot of belief in my ability to serve and hang tough and to make it deep in sets. I trusted my fitness levels, being able to go the distance. That gave me a lot of confidence. My serve wasn't working that well in the first set, I felt that he was really on top of me. I really started to find my groove and had one of my best serving days in the second and third sets."
With his two-hour, 32-minute victory, Shelton earned his third Top 10 triumph. He defeated then-World No. 5 Casper Ruud en route to the fourth round in Cincinnati last year and then-World No. 10 Frances Tiafoe in the quarter-finals at this year’s US Open.
"I am addicted to playing on the big stages," Shelton added. "I have not had a normal upbringing or usual first year on Tour. It has been a little bit backwards but I am just trying to keep going and improving each week."
Shelton, currently third in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, is chasing his maiden tour-level trophy and will next play countryman Sebastian Korda. Americans J.J. Wolf and Tommy Paul are also still alive in Shanghai, with both playing their fourth round matches on Wednesday.
In a dramatic match, Shelton turned the tables after Sinner came out firing in the pair's first Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting. The 21-year-old played with greater intensity as the match went on and improved on serve, winning 77 per cent (30/39) of points behind his first delivery in the third set compared to 67 per cent (8/12) in the opener. After leading 4/0 in the third-set tie-break, Shelton responded from falling 4/5 behind by winning the final three points to seal his 21st tour-level win of the year.
Sinner was aiming to reach his fifth ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final of the season, highlighted by his maiden title at this level in Toronto. The Italian, who triumphed in Beijing last week, qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time after defeating Marcos Giron in his opening match in Shanghai.