Ben Shelton — a 20-year-old tennis player from Atlanta — is the breakout star of the 2023 US Open.
The hard-hitting lefty is the youngest American man to reach a US Open semifinal in three decades.
Get to know Shelton and the unique circumstances that have made him the hottest star in his sport.
But it's Ben Shelton — a 20-year-old heavy hitter from Atlanta, Georgia — who has emerged as the last American man standing in this summer's tournament.
Shelton took down two of his highest-ranked compatriots — world No. 14 Paul and world No. 10 Tiafoe — en route to a blockbuster 2023 US Open semifinal matchup against 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.
And he did it just 13 months into his tenure as a professional tennis player; Shelton chose to forgo his remaining college eligibility just a week before last year's tournament in Flushing Meadows.
Get to know Shelton — the budding superstar vying to become the first American to win a Grand Slam men's singles title in two decades — below:
Ben Shelton is the son of tennis players.
Ben Shelton was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 2002. His mom, Lisa Witsken Shelton, was a top-ranked junior tennis player whose late brother, Todd Witsken, was a top-50 singles player on the ATP Tour.
His dad, Bryan Shelton, was also an elite tennis player. He won two titles on the ATP tour and reached a career-high ranking of 55 in 1992 before moving on to coaching.
Bryan was coaching the women's tennis team at his alma mater, Georgia Tech, when Ben was born. When Ben was just 5 years old, he watched his dad lead the Yellow Jackets to their first-ever national championship.
Five years later, the Shelton family moved to Gainesville, Florida, where Bryan took over the head coaching job for the Florida Gators' men's tennis team. Now, Ben considers The Swamp home.
Shelton preferred football as a kid, but he grew tired of 'getting bashed up' as one of the smallest kids on the field.
Though he grew up surrounded by tennis, Shelton focused on team sports when he was a kid. He played quarterback for his youth football team, but he told The New York Times that his late growth spurt stymied his progress on the gridiron.
"Going into the end of middle school, there was a lot of huge kids in football, and I hadn't really hit my growth spurt yet," Shelton said. "I was maybe a little tired of getting bashed up all the time."
So after years of insisting "that 'tennis will not be my sport,'" as Bryan recalled, Ben stepped onto the court at 12 years old — considerably older than most players who go on to be tennis stars.
But Shelton believed he could make it.
"I saw that my dad was a college coach and knew a lot about the game," he told The Times. "My chances of going far in the sport and having that resource was definitely going to be helpful."
Shelton could've competed abroad at 16 — but his parents made him stay in school.
Shelton quickly began winning matches on the junior circuit once he fully devoted himself to tennis. By the time he was 16, he felt he was ready to take his game abroad.
But his dad stopped him in his tracks with one simple question, according to ESPN: "Are you the best player in the US?"
The answer, Shelton admitted, was no. So he stayed home in Florida and continued to hone his game domestically.
"My wife Lisa and I, our thoughts were, No. 1, we wanted our kids to grow up to be well-balanced children and later become well-balanced young adults and so forth," Bryan Shelton said ahead of his son's 2023 US Open semifinal.
"So for us, having a normal life as far as going to regular school and having friends and socially being in a good place, getting a good, solid education — we really tried to put the emphasis on those things before the sports stuff."
Bryan also noted that an "inside-out approach" to tennis — starting locally and then spreading further out over time — helped Ben to "never skip steps" on his journey to becoming a top tennis star.
By 18, he was ranked 3rd in the country for his age and playing for his dad's Florida Gators.
Shelton entered his freshman season at Florida as the third-ranked 18-year-old in the country, according to the USTA. And he made an instant impact, clinching the Gators' first national title with his singles victory during the team championship.
His star only rose in his sophomore season. Shelton accrued a 37-5 singles record and earned the No. 1 ranking among men's collegiate players.
He finished off the season by capturing an individual singles national championship.
Shelton went pro late in the summer of 2022.
Shelton planned to return to Gainesville for his junior season last year.
But that changed in the summer of 2022, when he decided to try his luck on a pro tour. (Amateur players are allowed to compete on the professional circuit so long as they don't keep their prize money.)
His goal was to evaluate his game and determine what he needed to focus on to keep up with the stars. Turns out, he was already there.
Shelton almost beat longtime leading American John Isner at the Atlanta Open, then triumphed over Italy's Lorenzo Sonego and then-world No. 5 Casper Ruud at the Cincinnati Masters.
"My whole thought the whole time was like 'If I think I'm gonna be top 100 by the end of this year, then I'll go pro,'" he told fellow US tennis stars Frances Tiafoe and Chris Eubanks in a recent sit-down interview. "I wasn't thinking about money, none of that."
His performance in Cincinnati convinced Shelton he was ready. So he went home, discussed the matter with his parents, and relinquished his amateur status.
He proved himself right within months; by the end of 2022, Shelton was the world's 96th-ranked player. He had cracked the top 100.
Shelton didn't achieve instant success as a pro.
Shelton's first year on tour was undoubtedly an adjustment period.
Even with his dad and lifelong coach continuing to work with him, Shelton would often lose in the first round of a competition and then, at the very next tournament, show the promise that made him one of the most-hyped American men in the sport.
He started 2023 with a bang, making it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. But shortly thereafter, Shelton returned to his hot-and-cold ways, picking up a losing record and failing to earn two consecutive victories until his 2023 US Open run.
His massive serve is guiding him through the US Open.
Shelton is playing his best tennis at his home Grand Slam, and New York is loving it.
The 20-year-old took down 2020 US Open champion Dominic Thiem, world No. 14 Tommy Paul, and world No. 10 Frances Tiafoe.
He is now the youngest American man to compete in a US Open singles semifinal in three decades.
And he's brought the heat to Flushing Meadows.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of Shelton's game is his monster serve. In his Round of 16 match against Paul, the lefty ripped a 149 mile-per-hour serve that clocked in as the fastest of the entire tournament.
—US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 3, 2023
Shelton has won over crowds in New York City with his electric personality and bold celebrations.
Shelton is playful and performative on the court.
Take his celebration upon beating Tiafoe in the quarterfinals. After winning match point on a blazing forehand shot, Shelton pretended to pick up a phone and then slammed it down into an imaginary receiver. He said it was meant to indicate to the world — and his opponents — that "I'm dialed in."
—US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2023
Shelton faces Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinal.
Shelton will need to employ every weapon in his arsenal this Friday to take down Djokovic, who has advanced to a record 41 Grand Slam semifinals in his illustrious career.
But if there's any player ready to answer the call, it's Shelton, the rising star of American men's tennis.
At 36 years old, Djokovic rarely offers his opponents an opportunity to capitalize on his mistakes. Shelton will look to overpower the Serbian superstar's consistency and deft movement with massive serves and an aggressive style of play.
He is sure to have the vast majority of fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium — the largest arena in tennis — on his side as he challenges 23-time Grand Slam champion. Not only is he a hometown hero as an American, but he's also bringing a charisma to the court that few other stars offer.
Read the original article on Insider