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Call for Ben Shelton: a door is slightly open for a taste of glory in New York

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NEW YORK – The question for Ben Shelton was also intended to be a joke in allusion to how young he is (and how fast technologies are advancing).

“Have you ever used a phone?”

The home phones, the ones that literally hang up and hang down, and that are already a retro element for many. Also for Shelton. “Yeah, in my home where I grew up in Atlanta I had one of those. I used it to call my friends and go out and play football”.

The dialogue that makes so many people feel very old is given to find out why the 20-year-old tennis player celebrates his matches with the gesture of answering an old-fashioned telephone. “I say I’m dialed-in,” Shelton explains. He’s connected. He’s focused.

Ben Shelton’s US Open celebration // REGINA CORTINA

Shelton is one of the sensations of this US Open. With a powerful serve (he put in the fastest one of the tournament at 149 mph) he won important matches at the Arthur Ashe and earned the right to face Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Not only does he have aggressive and sharp tennis: the left-hander is charismatic and connects very well with the crowd.

“He has great opportunities because of the way he is. He’s going to continue to be himself, he has a great personality and he loves people. I think he is gonna be great for the game and he understands that. Sponsors, brands…? He’s not focused on that part, let the agents focus a little bit more,” Bryan Shelton, his father and coach, tells CLAY.

Roger Federer noticed the youngster when he was not yet exploding and signed him to his Team8 representative agency. The Swiss player predicted the future well: one year later, Shelton is already one of the world’s top 20 players. In August, Shelton became an ambassador for ON, the Swiss brand of which the five-time US Open champion owns 3%.

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Shelton Sr., a former tennis player who made the round of 16 at Wimbledon and was near the top 50 in the 1990s, believes that the mix of good tennis and an engaging personality will take him far: “I want him to focus on continuing to develop his game. The personality is not going to change. But he can keep improving with his tennis, because the combination of winning matches like Tuesday’s (against Frances Tiafoe in the quarterfinals), winning tournaments and going far in Grand Slams with that personality he has, special things can happen.”

He will have this Friday the opportunity to really show the world his true quality if he can stand toe-to-toe with a multi-champion like the Serb in the biggest stadium in tennis. Not to mention if Shelton denies Djokovic the chance to tie Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slams.

The American soon jumped from college tennis in North America to the world tour with a particularity: he reached the top 100 without ever having left the United States. Neither for tennis, nor for any other reason. He was not that good a few years ago, he did not win national tournaments and his father told him that it was not necessary to travel outside the borders. The benefits of being born in a nation with so many tournaments and tennis culture.

This year he redefined the concept of reaching the peak in the Grand Slams. He made the quarterfinals in Melbourne and will play for a place in the final in New York. Those nine victories surpass the eight of the rest of the season, which had several first round exits. It is explained by his inexperience on clay and grass. Until 2023 he never played official matches outside of hard courts (except for a couple of events on green clay).

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Improving on clay is a concern in Shelton’s team, who believes that at some point it will be necessary to switch to the US hard courts events in february to play the Latin American golden swing, as the coach commented to CLAY: “He needs it, yes… he has the ability to play well on clay. This year he didn’t have the best winning percentage, but he just needs to take advantage of the opportunities that come his way.”

But he’s not thinking about clay now. New York’s hard surface is the door just open to defy the odds and graduate to superstar status.

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