Win or lose, Ben Shelton is making sure he learns from every aspect of his rookie season on the ATP Tour.
The #NextGenATP star is preparing for the second half of his ‘Sunshine Double’ debut this week at the Miami Open presented by Itau. A three-set second-round loss to No. 1-ranked American Taylor Fritz in Indian Wells 10 days ago has done little to dent the 20-year-old Shelton’s confidence as he seeks to continue his rapid rise.
“I definitely took a lot from it,” said Shelton, now at a career-high No. 39 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, of his battle with Fritz in California. “It definitely gave me some confidence, playing someone who was No. 5 in the world, [in a match] that tight. I thought I played a great match, but also I could see some ways that he exposed me or that he picked on.
“[It was good] being able to get that feedback and knowing the things that I’m going to have to improve if I want to compete with the best. I’m always excited when I get to match up with a guy like that who has had so much success lately, so I was happy to be able to play that match.”
In May 2022, Shelton was a college student and the No. 573 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Across a stellar past 10 months, during which he has lifted three ATP Challenger Tour titles, defeated the then-World No. 5 Casper Ruud in Cincinnati, and reached the quarter-finals on debut at the Australian Open, Shelton has rocketed to a career-high No. 39.
That rapid progress has granted the American direct entry to a host of unfamiliar tour-level events (prior to flying to New Zealand in January, he had never even left the United States). Despite the fact he played college tennis just a five-hour drive from Miami at the University of Florida in Gainesville, even this week’s ATP Masters 1000 event at Hard Rock Stadium will be a completely new experience for Shelton.
“It’s a pretty great stadium, I like the set-up here,” said the American, who takes on Adrian Mannarino or Shang Juncheng as the 32nd seed in his Miami opener. “There’s a lot of space, it’s spread out, everything’s really nice. It’s actually my first time being down at the stadium for anything, so I’m enjoying it so far. It’s been good weather, and I’m really looking forward to hopefully playing some good tennis here.”
Shelton’s meteoric rise has coincided with that of another recent breakout star on Tour, Wu Yibing. Wu, who became the first Chinese ATP Tour titlist in Dallas in February this year, defeated Shelton in the championship match of an ATP Challenger Tour event in the U.S. state of Georgia last July. Despite the tension of that first on-court meeting and their emergence as potential rivals on court in future, the pair has become good friends .
“[Our friendship is] really cool,” said Shelton. “We go back-and-forth. I try to tell him that he’s better than me, and he tries to tell me that I’m better than him. So we’re really good friends and I like seeing him in the locker room. I’ve been calling him GQ lately because he was doing all the modelling in China!
“He’s a great guy, it was really cool to see what he’s been doing, getting an ATP title in Dallas. It’s pretty impressive, so let’s call him the King of Dallas.”