Ben Shelton part of growing crop of U.S. men – NBC Sports – Misc.

MELBOURNE, Australia– To get an idea of just how new the whole international pro tennis thing is to Ben Shelton, the 20-year-old NCAA champion from the University of Florida about to make his Australian Open debut, consider this: He says he is using a passport for the first time.
There’s more that is unfamiliar to him. The Gainesville-Atlanta-Los Angeles-Sydney-Adelaide itinerary of airplane rides late last month that brought Shelton on his initial trip outside of the United States as he played tune-up events before the first Grand Slam tournament of 2023. Going through customs. Trying different food. Riding in cars on the left side of the road.
And that’s to say nothing of the on-court learning curve, which Shelton will continue to navigate when he plays his first-round match at Melbourne Park against Zhang Zhizhen, a 26-year-old from China also never previously in the main draw there.
“It’s a completely different ballgame,” Shelton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “These are all a lot of experiences that I haven’t had yet. But I’m glad to be out here.”
It’s been said over and over and over again: No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick at the 2003 U.S. Open. Shelton is part of a group of players hoping to end that drought at some point, and while it still might take some time, breakthrough performances in 2022 by Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz and Brandon Nakashima helped show countrymen what could be possible.
Tiafoe, a 24-year-old from Maryland, made it to the U.S. Open semifinals, the first man from the U.S. to get that far at Flushing Meadows since Roddick in 2006. Fritz, a 25-year-old from California, climbed into the top 10 and won his first Masters 1000 title by beating Rafael Nadal. Nakashima, a 21-year-old from California, won the Next Gen ATP Finals.
“It definitely gives us a lot of hope, a lot of encouragement. It’s cool to see those guys do amazing things. It’s something to look up to for me, for sure,” said Shelton, prone to flashing a wide smile while he speaks. “American tennis is definitely on the way up.”
A total of 13 Americans are in the ATP’s top 100, with Shelton checking in at a career-best No. 92 after turning pro last year.
“He’s a feisty competitor,” said Chris Eubanks, a 26-year-old from Georgia and friend of Shelton’s. “When things aren’t going well, he is still so confident and focused on deciding to just make it go well. It’s very rare. You’re going to hear some yelling. You’re going to hear `Vamos!’ You’re going to see fist pumps. Doesn’t matter what the score is.”
Shelton’s father, Bryan, a former pro who taught Ben the game and coaches at Florida, described it as “a football mentality” that derives from time dabbling in that sport, along with basketball and soccer, as a youngster. It wasn’t until Ben turned 11 that he zeroed in on tennis – because he wanted to travel to junior tournaments and stay in hotels like his sister, Emma, who now competes for Florida.
There are a tournament-high 14 U.S. players in the men’s bracket at the Australian Open, and the 17 in the women’s bracket also leads all countries. (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin won major trophies in women’s singles for the United States over the past two decades.)
“The American men in their 20s, there’s a lot of guys that are having success and steadily climbing up the rankings. They push each other,” said Michael Russell, a former player who coaches Fritz. “Obviously I’m biased; I want Taylor to do the best, of course. But hopefully we’ll have an American man as a Grand Slam champion again soon.”
Shelton, who left Florida after his sophomore season and is taking online classes toward a degree in business, is OK with taking things one step at a time.
He is more interested in process-related goals than anything tied to rankings or results – even if he did soar 471 during 2022, which included a victory over French Open and U.S. Open runner-up Casper Ruud and three consecutive titles on the lower-level Challenger Tour.
“He’s had a lot of success, but there’s so much room for improvement,” Bryan Shelton said about his son. “He recognizes that.”
There weren’t as many surprises on the court for Ben as there were off it during his initial taste of life on tour.
“The way players take care of all the things – their body, how they eat, the way they warm up, the work they do in the gym each day,” Shelton said, “I’d say that was the interesting part for me. Seeing how much it takes to be at the level that these guys are at.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — Fifth-seeded Andrey Rublev advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open for the third time in four years with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over Dan Evans.
Rublev hit 60 winners, including 10 aces.
“Every match I’m playing better and better,” Rublev said. “At the beginning of the year I lost a couple of close matches against really good players and lost a bit of confidence.”
Rublev, who will play ninth-seeded Holger Rune in the last 16, also thanked Evans for helping him by giving him a banana late in the first set.
“I asked for a banana and they didn’t have any,” Rublev said. “Dan had asked for bananas earlier and had two and he just gave me one. He helped me with the energy.”
Danish teenager Rune beat Ugo Humbert 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (5) to move into the fourth round on just his second visit to Melbourne Park.
Rune had a nasty-looking fall on the second point of the second set when his right ankle slipped. He had his right wrist checked but seemed unaffected as he claimed a convincing victory.
Fifth-seeded Aryna Sabalenka extended her streak to seven matches as she beat Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3 to reach the fourth round. The Belarusian player hit 32 winners to beat Mertens, with whom she won the doubles title in Melbourne in 2021.
“It’s really tough to play against her, she’s a great player and is always fighting,” Sabalenka said.
Sabalenka will now play Belinda Bencic after the Swiss player reached the fourth round for the first time since 2016, beating Camila Giorgi 6-2, 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena.
The 12th-seeded Bencic was broken when serving for the match at 5-4 but she broke serve in the following game and then served out to love for victory.
“I’m really happy I got a second chance to serve it out,” she said. “But overall I think it was a great match. (At 6-5) I just tried to relax. My coach (Dmitri Tursunov) was showing me relax (signals).”
Bencic won the warm-up event in Adelaide before the Australian Open and has won eight matches in a row.
Former top-ranked Karolina Pliskova also reached the last 16 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Varvara Gracheva. Pliskova, who last made the second week in Melbourne in 2019, did not face a break point.
“My serve, it can be a really good weapon,” she said. “I’m not doing as much running from the baseline.”
Pliskova next plays Zhang Shuai, who ended the run of American qualifier Katie Volynets 6-3, 6-2. Donna Vekic advanced to the fourth round for the second time in three years with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Nuria Parrizas Diaz of Spain.
MELBOURNE, Australia – Sebastian Korda comes by his athleticism and competitive instincts honestly. From Dad, the 1998 Australian Open champion. From Mom, also a former professional tennis player. And from two big sisters, both current golf pros.
Add in some mentorship from eight-time major champ Andre Agassi and a couple of coaches, including former player Radek Stepanek, and maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Korda, a 22-year-old American never past the fourth round at a Grand Slam tournament, would manage to eliminate two-time runner-up Daniil Medvedev at Melbourne Park.
Korda’s attacking brand of tennis carried him past No. 7-seeded Medvedev 7-6 (7), 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the Australian Open’s third round Friday night, the latest in a string of victories by young men from the U.S. against top players this week.
“I always was told how good of a tennis player I can be. Now (I’m) just getting the right people around me, building a really solid team, just trusting the process,” said the 29th-seeded Korda, who was the 2018 junior champion in Australia. “I’m growing as a person, as a player. Just trying to do the right things. Just have fun, enjoy it – good things will happen.”
This result comes on the heels of two other attention-grabbing victories by players from the U.S., whose men last won a Grand Slam title 20 years ago. On Wednesday, Mackenzie McDonald beat No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal. On Thursday, Jenson Brooksby beat No. 2 seed Casper Ruud.
Now it was Korda’s turn to add his name to the list with a game Medvedev described as “kind of different from everybody.”
Medvedev won the U.S. Open two years ago and made it to the final in Australia in 2021, when he lost to Novak Djokovic, and 2022, when he lost to Nadal after holding a two-set lead. The Russian also was briefly ranked No. 1 last season.
On this night in Rod Laver Arena, it was Korda who dictated most of the points, who put his shots right where he wanted them, who charged forward with verve and slick volleys. He even threw in the occasional drop shot, for good measure.
He compiled nearly twice as many winners as Medvedev, 50-28, and won the point on 75% of his trips to the net, 36 of 48.
“I kind of knew what I had to do. I stuck with it, even when I was going up and down with the emotions,” Korda said.
How would he describe that game plan?
“Just go for it,” he said with a laugh.
Korda broke Medvedev – who said afterward his right wrist and forearm were bothering him – the first time he served in each set. With the match a fraction longer than 2 1/2 hours old, Korda was serving while ahead 4-3, 40-15 in the third set. So close to advancing. Five points away.
Right there, right then, is when Korda slipped up.
After Medvedev made it 40-30 with a forehand winner, Korda got a chance to hit a seemingly simple volley to take the game. But he missed, sending the ball too long. On the next point, he netted a forehand from the baseline, his sixth unforced error off that wing in the set – six more than Medvedev at that moment. A netted backhand then completed the gift-wrapped break, and one love hold later, Medvedev had accumulated eight consecutive points to go up 5-4.
What appeared to be a turning point, though, turned out just to be a blip.
Korda raced to a 6-1 lead in the closing tiebreaker and, while he again needed to settled down after some missed chances, this time he ended things with a forehand winner.
He said he relied on a philosophy he picked up from his mother, Regina Rajchrtova: “Throughout this whole year, I haven’t had one negative thought, whether it’s waiting for transportation to go to the courts, whether it’s eating lunch, whether it’s doing anything. … Kind of just having a new motto of: Positive energy is more positive than negative energy.”
To reach his first Slam quarterfinal, Korda will need to defeat No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz on Sunday. That day’s other men’s matches: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime vs. Jiri Lehecka, and Karen Khachanov vs. Yoshihito Nishioka.
Nishioka was a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 6-2 winner over McDonald, while another one of the eight U.S. men to reach the third round was sent home when Khachanov topped No. 16 Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9).
The women’s upcoming fourth-round matches: Iga Swiatek vs. Elena Rybakina, Jessica Pegula vs. Barbora Krejcikova, Coco Gauff vs. Jelena Ostapenko, and Victoria Azarenka vs. Zhu Lin.
As well as Pegula is playing, dropping zero sets and just 11 games total along the way to Week 2, you might think she’d be completely pleased with how things are going.
Ah, but Pegula is a self-described perfectionist. And so she gave herself a bit of a hard time about what happened late in the second set of her 6-0, 6-2 victory over Marta Kostyuk.
“I was annoyed,” Pegula said after the 65-minute contest.
By what, exactly?
Well, the 28-year-old from New York was cruising along, having won 10 of the first 11 games and serving with a 30-love lead, when she stumbled ever so slightly, ever so briefly. She missed three first serves in a row. She put a backhand into the net. She got lobbed. She double-faulted. She started muttering under her breath. She sent a backhand long to end an 11-stroke exchange. Add it up, and Pegula got broken there, her lead in the second set shrinking to 4-2. For three minutes, her play was less than ideal.
Oh, the horror.
“When I was younger, it came off as kind of a bad attitude. I’d get really negative or down on myself,” Pegula said, adding that she has worked on “not being so hard on myself during the matches.”

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