Ben Shelton finished the year by winning three successive ATP Challenger Tour titles and is one of our breakout players to watch in the 2023 season. The 20-year-old beat Casper Ruud earlier in the summer and is the youngest of 13 Americans in the top 100 in the world. He has been described by fellow American John Isner as an “incredible talent” and could be set to climb up the rankings.
Breakout definition: suddenly and extremely popular or successful.
Every year there are breakout players on the ATP and WTA tours. This year some of the more notable were Holger Rune, who reached the top 10 after starting outside the top 100, Jack Draper, who moved up over 200 places in the rankings, and Zheng Qinwen, who rose over 100 places in the WTA rankings.
Who will be the breakout players to watch out for in 2023?
This week we are profiling five players to watch out for in the year ahead. After looking at big-serving American Alycia Parks, we next turn our attentions to another American, Ben Shelton.
WHAT DID SHELTON DO IN 2022?
The US hard-court summer proved to be a fruitful one for Shelton.
A week after making an ATP Challenger Tour final in Chicago, Shelton scored his first Masters victory over Lorenzo Sonego in Cincinnati. He followed up with a victory over Casper Ruud, becoming the youngest American man to beat a top-five player since Andy Roddick beat Gustavo Kuerten in 2001.
The year finished in perfect fashion as he reeled off a 15-match winning streak across three ATP Challenger Tour events to move into the top 100 in the rankings, having started the year at No. 573.
Shelton’s rise comes after success at college level (NCAA).
He won the title-clinching match for the University of Florida at the 2021 NCAA Championships and was singles champion in 2022. Ahead of playing at the US Open this summer he opted to leave the University of Florida and turn professional.
WHY COULD SHELTON HAVE A BIG 2023?
Shelton has a great all-round game.
At 6’4” he is armed with a strong lefty serve that can win him plenty of free points, and has benefitted from time spent playing American football as a youngster.
“Getting his elbow up and doing certain things with the football, and really trying to perfect that kind of allowed him to come into tennis and really develop that as a weapon,” his father Bryan Shelton, a former tennis professional, told the ATP in the summer.
“I think that’s a big part of why he loves everything above his head, whether it’s an overhead or a serve. He’s pretty dynamic with that.”
Shelton is also quick around the court and agile, as he showed in one point against Ruud where he ran back to recover a lob and then chipped it back over his opponent with a tweener.
“I trust myself with my serve and I trust myself with my athleticism,” he said over the summer.
“So those are two things that I think set me apart. I love to get to the net. I’m able to use some of my hand skills, athletic skills and going up to get the ball. It’s one of my favourite things to do.”
Shelton is the youngest of 13 Americans in the top 100 and appears to have a relaxed mindset heading into 2023.
“It starts with the mentality of what you do in between the points,” he told the ATP in November. “I’m not dwelling on every single point whether I win or lose. If I make a bad error, I can laugh it off…I’m just taking everything that I can get right now, enjoying everything that I have and not stressing too much.”
WHAT HAVE THEY SAID?
Former American No. 1 John Isner after beating Shelton in Atlanta: “He’s an incredible talent. I watched him play a-year-and-a-half ago in college and saw how athletic and talented he is. I’m going to be a big fan of his in the future. Truthfully, I don’t see myself beating him anytime in the future. I hope I don’t have to play him again.”
World No. 3 Casper Ruud told the ATP after losing to Shelton: “If he plays like he did today every match for the rest of his career, I think he will reach very far. I think it surprised me a little bit how well he played. I knew he was a young, up and coming, great player. But today he was painting lines as we call it and hitting all the spots he needed to. It was really impressive to see. He was young, fearless and of course he is playing without pressure, so that is something I think young players could really take advantage of sometimes. He will be around for many years and he will be a problem for many years for me and any other players.”
- Age: 20
- Current singles ranking: No. 96
- Highest singles ranking: No. 96
- Coach: Bryan Shelton and Dean Goldfine
- Honours: Three ATP Challenger Tour titles
DID YOU KNOW?
After opting to turn professional, Shelton said that he plans to continue studying his university finance degree online.
Leave a Reply