In the span of a year, Ben Shelton has transformed from an emerging tennis player making his international debut to a prominent force in the sport. The 21-year-old American, armed with a formidable serve and youthful fearlessness, reflects on his rapid rise from obscurity to recognition.
His breakthrough year in 2023, completing his first full season as a professional, saw Shelton reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and progressing even further at the US Open, culminating in a fiery semifinal against Novak Djokovic. Subsequently, he clinched his inaugural ATP Tour title in Japan, marking a series of notable achievements.
Currently ranked 16th globally and in the company of fellow Americans Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul, and Frances Tiafoe in the top 20, Shelton cautiously navigates discussions about his aspirations for the upcoming season. Choosing not to disclose specific goals publicly, he emphasizes the desire to avoid limiting his potential and opts to take his journey one step at a time.
Shelton’s unconventional career trajectory involved prioritizing football until the age of 12 or 13, despite having a family background in tennis. Influenced by his sister’s involvement in national tournaments, he gradually embraced tennis, eventually winning the NCAA singles title in 2022 while at the University of Florida.
Unlike the trend of teenage champions in tennis, Shelton’s decision to spend his formative years closer to home allowed him to enter the professional scene at 21 feeling fresh and without the burnout often associated with early specialization.
Known for his physical prowess and powerful six-foot-four frame, Shelton’s lethal serve has become his signature weapon. However, he aims to dispel the notion of being a one-dimensional player, highlighting improvements in baseline play, net approaches, and enhanced movement heading into the Australian Open.
Coached by his father, Bryan Shelton, since June of the previous year, their player-coach relationship benefits from a deep understanding of Ben’s strengths and areas for improvement. Both father and son hope for another remarkable run in the upcoming Australian Open.
Shelton’s success in 2023 not only elevated his standing in tennis but also attracted sponsorship from Swiss sportswear brand On, marking their entry into tennis. This newfound marketability brought Shelton into the public eye, a facet of professional sports that he continues to navigate and adjust to.
As Shelton faces the challenges and expectations that come with being in the spotlight, his commitment to continuous learning and improvement positions him as one of the most promising talents in men’s tennis. The next chapter in his journey unfolds at the Australian Open, where he aspires to build on the successes of his debut year as a professional.