Australia Open: Shelton, Paul give US 3 men in quarters
Melbourne, Australia –
The next stop on Ben Shelton’s maiden voyage outside the United States is a place in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
The 20-year-old NCAA champion from the University of Florida extended his stay in his Melbourne Park debut by recording a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6- 2 victory over JJ Wolf in an all-American matchup at John Cain Arena on Monday.
Playing in only his second Grand Slam tournament – and using his passport for the first time – Shelton credited himself with being “energetic” and “courageous” during the more than 3 1/2 hours he and Wolf made big cuts. and momentum traded shifts on a day when temperatures soared above 25 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit).
Now, the 89th-seeded Shelton meets yet another unseeded American, the 35th-ranked Tommy Paul, who knocked out No. 24 seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 on Monday.
They join Sebastian Korda – his father won the Australian Open in 1998 – to give the US three men in the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the first time since 2000. At the time, the trio consisted of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Chris Woodruff.
Shelton, Paul and Korda are all in the last eight at a major for the first time. Not the case, of course, for Novak Djokovic, the 21-time Grand Slam champion who looked unyielding during a 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 victory over No. 22 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia and stated that his troublesome left hamstring is no longer a problem.
“I didn’t feel anything today,” Djokovic said, pointing out that he took “a lot” of anti-inflammatory pills.
Djokovic, who was unable to play at last year’s Australian Open due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, took a step closer to a record-extending 10th championship in Melbourne by never encountering a break point and through half a dozen of the Minaur’s service games .
Djokovic moves on to a match against No. 5 Andrey Rublev. The Russian kept coming back, kept coming back, kept coming back – from trailing 5-2 in the fifth set, from a few match points while trailing 6-5, from being behind of 5-0 and 7-2 in the first-to-10 closing tiebreak – before eventually going No. 9 Holger Rune 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (11-9) tucked away in the Rod Laver Arena.
Rublev won it as his backhand return slid off the net cord and barely, barely, made it to Rune’s side, impossible to reach. Rublev dropped onto his back at the baseline and raised both arms as if to say, “Sorry!” – or maybe “Sorry. Not sorry!” – as Rune also threw away his racket.
‘I have no words for it, boy. I’m shaking,” said Rublev, who is 0-6 in the Grand Slam quarterfinals for his career. “That ball was right on my side and I don’t know how it went over.”
Magda Linette, entering the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time at age 31 and in her 30th appearance at a major, advanced in Monday’s women’s draw: Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka and Donna Vekic.
Linette will play against Pliskova, while Sabalenka will face Vekic for the semifinals. On the other side of the series is Jessica Pegula vs. Victoria Azarenka and Elena Rybakina vs. Elena Ostapenko.
The southpaw Shelton is equipped with a powerful serve that yielded the tournament’s fastest offering to date, hitting 140 mph during his first-round victory, an instinct for defense and a competitive streak. Against Wolf, who played college tennis at Ohio State and also played in the main draw in Melbourne for the first time, Shelton gave up just two break points and saved them both.
Sometimes a little quiet at first under the sun, Shelton grew louder and livelier as the shadows crept across the blue playing surface and the fault line increased in intensity.
He threw uppercuts and yelled, “Come on!” or “Let’s go!” after winning points, and as the thrilling game drew to a close, Shelton stuck out his tongue and bent his arms.
“Definitely a grueling game,” said Shelton, whose father, Bryan, reached a career-best ranking of No. 55 as a pro and now coaches the Florida men’s team.