American is making his Australian Open debut

Bryan Shelton competed in the Australian Open main draw six times in singles during his career. But perhaps his most notable moment in Melbourne came off the court. One year, the American was in the lobby of the Como Hotel when he met a woman named Lisa, the sister of colleague Todd Witsken.

This year, Bryan and Lisa’s son, Ben Shelton, is playing in the Australian Open for the first time.

“I think that would be a cool place to see,” the younger Shelton told of the Como Hotel, cracking a laugh.

Shelton is one of the hottest prospects on the circuit. The lefty was even invited to participate in Australian Open Kids Tennis Day alongside superstars like Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek, Nick Kyrgios and more.

What might surprise you is that the No. 92 player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings is on his first trip outside the United States. Why?

“I was asking my dad about playing some ITFs or playing outside the country [in the juniors] and he asked me if I was the best player in the United States,” Shelton recalled. “I told him, ‘No, I’m not.’ And he said, ‘So why would we go to another country when you’re not the best player here?’

“I think it was pretty good advice looking back at it and I’m getting all those experiences now, so I’m pretty happy with how things went.”

Shelton certainly picked a doozy for his first international trip, flying across the world to Australia. Before departing for his first tournament of the year in Adelaide, the longest flight he had taken was six hours from Miami to San Francisco.

“The timing ended up that we left around 10, 11 p.m. from LA and I landed at 8 a.m. in Australia, so I was able to sleep most of the flight and take it like a normal night of sleep. It wasn’t too bad,” Shelton said, cracking a smile. “Maybe a little bit [nervous] about how my body was going to react after the flight, but I wasn’t too nervous about actually flying.

“I told myself I was going to try to sleep most of the time and that seemed to be the easiest way to try to pass the time. That was the goal and I did a pretty good job.”

The American admitted if he had to redo anything, he would have flown over a few days earlier to give himself extra time to prepare before his first match. But Shelton knows he is going through a learning process, taking new lessons on board every day during his first full season as a professional.

“I’m really excited to be out here full time,” Shelton said. “Hopefully meet some awesome people, make some good friendships. I love playing tennis and competing so I hope it’s going to be a really fun year.”

Shelton, a former standout student-athlete for the University of Florida, turned pro just before last year’s US Open after an impressive stretch during which he excelled on the ATP Challenger Tour and defeated Lorenzo Sonego and Casper Ruud in Cincinnati. In 2022, the American lifted three Challenger trophies in as many weeks to complete his season and crack the world’s Top 100.

During the offseason, he returned to Gainesville to train with his former teammates and his father, who is the team’s head coach.

“We have a group chat that we all text in pretty much every day, so I’m still really close with the team. I talk to them all the time,” Shelton said. “I trained with the team in Gainesville and got a lot of good work done with them and my dad, so things went well. I thought I got better on the court and off the court, in the gym. So I’m happy with how things went.”

Although Shelton is now physically removed from school, he is continuing his education. The 20-year-old is taking two online classes: entrepreneurship and international business.

“I often have time in the evenings when my day is over, so it hasn’t been too difficult to find time. Two classes is a pretty light schedule, so it hasn’t been too much of a struggle,” Shelton said. “Definitely nice to have something outside of tennis that I can dive into or spend time doing, not become too one-tracked.”

The American has been preparing for his first Australian Open, where he will face China’s Zhang Zhizhen in the first round, so he has not had much time to explore Melbourne.

“I definitely want to go see some animals,” Shelton said, before cracking yet another smile. “I don’t know if it’s at a zoo, but I want to see some koalas or kangaroos, something like that. I think that would be really cool.”

The Como Hotel is on his list, too.