Ben Shelton wins his first ATP title to show the other young guns that he is right up there with the best.
It’s been a hell of a year for Ben Shelton. The young American put the tennis world on notice in early 2023 when he made the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. A duet of poor Grand Slam performances at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon followed and Shelton’s talents were momentarily forgotten.
That was until he had his breakthrough moment at the US Open, where at his home Grand Slam, he produced some truly sublime tennis to reach the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
Whilst Shelton’s biggest weapon is undoubtedly his serve, hitting speeds of 149mph on two occasions at the US Open, he is far than just that. Equipped with a monstrous forehand and fantastic volleys, Shelton looks certain to be a consistent Grand Slam competitor for years to come.
One of the factors that makes Shelton so dangerous is the fact he is left-handed. The addition of a southpaw stance to Shelton’s huge serve and forehand makes for a lethal combination. Considering he is one of the only top lefthanders coming through, you only have to ask Tony Nadal about the impact being left-handed can have.
Shelton has now made sure that his breakthrough year will not be title-less. The 21-year-old has won his first ATP tournament, defeating Aslan Karatsev 7-5, 6-1 in the final of the Tokyo Open.
Despite only being ranked 50th by the ATP, Karatsev is one of the most dangerous players on the tour, with far more ability that his ranking suggests.
The first set was a tight affair, with both men producing some fantastic tennis. At 5-5 neither player had managed a break, but it would be Shelton who got the crucial break of serve to lead 6-5. He served out the set with little fuss to go within one set of his first ATP title.
The second set would be considerably less competitive. One of the criticisms of Karatsev, and perhaps one of the reasons why he has never performed to the extent his talent has promised, is that he tends to lose his head when he goes behind in a match.
Once Shelton got the early break in set 2, Karatsev seemed at first frustrated and then disinterested as he slumped to a 6-1 thrashing, crowning Shelton the Tokyo Open champion.
The slump in American men’s tennis is well documented, as they still await their first Grand Slam champion since Andy Roddick in 2003. The question amongst American fans is: Will Shelton be the man to break the duck?
Well, it’s difficult to say. Shelton appears to be the best of the current crop of Americans on the ATP tour, but will he be able to compete with the likes of Alcaraz, Sinner and Rune, who are destined to be the next top players.
The advantage Shelton will have over these players is his serve and his left-handed stance, which will allow him to create different angles to the other right-handed players.
At only 21, Shelton has a lot of development left to do, and 2024 will be a big year for him. He has already demonstrated his effectiveness on hard courts, but when I look at Shelton I see the makings of a potential Wimbledon champion.
Shelton’s use of the serve and volley reminds me of Wimbledon champions of old, and while the tournament has changed since the times of Sampras, there will always be room for success for big serving Americans at Wimbledon.
Shelton is an extremely talented player, and while it remains to be seen if he is as talented as the likes of Alcaraz and Sinner, it is clear that he offers something different to the other crop of young superstars.
Has America found it’s next Grand Slam Champion?