By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, August 30, 2023
NEW YORK—Facing set point at 4-5, Ben Shelton laid it on the line.
The left-hander lashed a slider serve off the sideline to erase set point, punctuating the strike with a smile.
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Back on his hard-court happy place, Shelton showed plenty of positive emotion and proactive play to reach the US Open third round for the first time.
The 20-year-old Shelton led Dominic Thiem 7-6(1), 1-0 when the 2020 US Open champion was forced to retire.
Thiem’s pain was Shelton’s gain: the explosive American has not only won back-to-back matches for the first time since his inspired run to the Australian Open quarterfinals last January, he’s also topped his tennis family tree. Ben Shelton’s third-round run in Flushing Meadows means he’s already surpassed his dad and coach, former ATP pro Bryan Shelton, who never surpassed the US Open second round in seven career appearances.
While opponents and fans may focus on his seismic serve, Shelton says positive state of mind is a key component to his first-week success.
“I think it’s really important for me getting me in the right mental state. Playing the type of tennis where I love to be out there,” Shelton said. “I feel like when I try to put myself in this, Okay, let’s be professional, be quiet, have a stern look on my face the whole time I’m playing, it takes away from some of my creativity on the court, some of the energy or explosive movements that I like to do when I’m playing.
“I think for me, having a smile on my face helps keep things fun. When I’m having fun, I’m playing some of my best tennis.”
Shelton improved to 14-20 on the season with 10 of his 14 wins coming on hard courts.
The 2022 NCAA singles champion for the University of Florida said one of his biggest adjustment from collegiate tennis to the pro circuit has been finding the balance between expressing emotion and sustaining focus on court.
“I’d say that that’s another thing for me: finding the balance of having fun, showing emotion, being loud, which I like to be on the court, and finding that balance,” Shelton said. “Obviously the pro game is very different than the college game. The college game is much more obnoxious, people are screaming at all times. It’s not as much of a gentleman’s sport as it is out on tour. I’ve been kind of trying to find that balance.”
Through two rounds, Shelton has served with shrewd precision mixing the spins and speeds of his serves—while trying to listen to his dad and avoid the temptation to bring the gas when he rocks the radar gun on serve.
At one point during the opening set today, Bryan Shelton told his son “you don’t have to go faster.”
“My dad gets mad at me when I case the numbers on the score clock, the mph’s, because once I hit one at 140, I’m going to try to beat it on the next one, 145. That’s something we go back and forth about,” Shelton said.” Yeah, I think that my serving strategy changes each match. But the overall consistency of what I do on my serve stays the same. I try to mix things up and keep guys off balance.
“I thought I did a great job today of changing up speeds and spins. I didn’t feel at any point he had a bead on my serve. I’d say that my biggest problem in my service games is that I break myself sometimes. It’s not only people hitting return winners against me or getting into net, hitting volley winners. It’s a lot of errors coming off my racquet. I felt like lately I’ve been doing a better job of kind of managing my service games, knowing when to pull the trigger and when to pull back a little bit.”
Next up for Shelton is 2021 Australian Open semifinalist Aslan Karatsev with the winner facing either Tommy Paul or Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the fourth round.
Photo credit: Brad Penner/USTA/US Open
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