Playing With 'Freedom', Shelton Thriving In Melbourne
To say Ben Shelton’s first trip outside of the United States has been a success would be an understatement.
When the American set off for Australia, he was stepping into the unknown. Fast forward one month and the 20-year-old is playing like a seasoned pro, with his victory against J.J. Wolf propelling him into the quarter-finals on debut at the Australian Open.
Speaking after his five-set win on Monday, Shelton admitted that his run in Melbourne has surpassed all expectations.
“[It is] definitely a surprise,” Shelton said. “I got on the plane with no expectations. I know that it's very hard to adjust to Australia from the United States just with the jetlag, time change and everything. It being my first time, never being out of the United States, I knew it would be a struggle.
“But I think it has helped me a little bit having that expectation or the feeling that I have to perform, but being able to just go out there, be myself and play free. I think that's been a big contribution to my success.”
One year ago, Shelton was No. 569 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and still in college at the University of Florida. The lefty was not yet in the top spot of his team’s lineup. Following his victory against Wolf, the 20-year-old is up to No. 43 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
“I feel great. It's been a pretty special week for me,” said Shelton, who is still taking online college classes. “Definitely a lot on my plate, playing my first Grand Slam outside of the United States, starting school this week. It's been a lot. But I'm really enjoying it so far.
“Each match that I've won here has felt the same. It's a mixture of joy, relief. I just have that feeling of ecstasy. When the last ball lands, I did it. To be able to do that on this stage four times in a row, that feeling over and over again, has been pretty cool.”
Shelton made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open in September, losing against Nuno Borges as he struggled physically in a five-set, first-round defeat. Despite playing 16 sets across his four matches in Melbourne, the 20-year-old feels ready to push further when he takes on Tommy Paul in the quarter-finals, marking the rapid progress he has made fitness-wise.
“I think I'm in a pretty good place physically,” Shelton said. “I think that since the last Grand Slam I played, in the US Open, where I was really struggling, five sets in the heat, I barely survived. My fitness wasn't near what I needed it to be. So I've worked really hard these past five or six months to get to where I want to be.
“I'm still not there. There's still a lot of improvements that I can make. I'm young and I have time to make those improvements. But I feel pretty confident in my ability in the upcoming hopefully matches that I can go out there and I can last five sets with anybody. I'm definitely taking care of my body the right way, trying to bring myself to peak performance for these matches.”