Tommy Paul beats Ben Shelton in the All-American Quarterfinals at the Australian Open

Tommy Paul beats Ben Shelton in the All-American Quarterfinals at the Australian Open

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  • January 25, 2023
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Tommy Paul received much less attention than his younger, less experienced opponent Ben Shelton, who went into his all-American quarterfinal at the Australian Open.

Perhaps that was a product of the fascination with the out-of-nowhere Shelton: just 20 years old and less than a year after winning an NCAA title for the University of Florida, he traveled outside the United States for the first time and took participate in his second Grand Slam tournament.

So the loud cries of support, most common Wednesday at Rod Laver Arena under the sun that brought the temperature to 87 degrees Fahrenheit, were for one of the two: “Let’s go, Benny! Let’s go!” or “Benny, Benny, Benni! Oi, Oi, Oi!” or “Go, alligators!”

“He had a pretty good trip,” Paul remarked.

Paul’s story is also pretty good and will continue at Melbourne Park: the 25-year-old from New Jersey was a star in the juniors and is now making good on that promise in the pros with a 7-6 (6), 6-3 , 5-7, 6-4 victory over Shelton to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal in his 14th appearance at a Major.

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As a bonus, Paul’s mother stood at Rod Laver Arena for the biggest win of his career. He said Mom booked a flight after he won his fourth-round game, and then he drove straight from work to the airport for the long trip from the US to Australia.

“To make it to the second weekend of a slam, that’s everyone’s dream when they start playing tennis,” said the 35th Paul, “so I can’t believe I’m here right now.”

His journey to this point has been as follows: breaking through as a teenager, taking the junior title at the 2015 French Open and also reaching the final at Flushing Meadows that year. Since turning pro, he has won a tour-level trophy in Stockholm in 2021 and, up until this week, made it to the fourth round in just one Grand Slam tournament – a year ago at Wimbledon.

Now Paul is the first man from his country to finish in the last four at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2009. Roddick was also the last man from the United States to win a Grand Slam singles championship at the US Open 20 years ago.

Paul’s next opponent will be 21-time Grand Slam singles champion Novak Djokovic or Andrey Rublev. The other men’s semifinal on Friday is Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Karen Khachanov.

Placement-based, Paul offered a much tougher test than any other Shelton faced in Australia: his previous opponents were ranked 67th, 96th, 113th and 154th.

Paul, meanwhile, took out two seeds: No. 24 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

That duel was the first singles quarterfinal between two American men at a Grand Slam event since 2007, when Roddick defeated Mardy Fish in Melbourne and Paul was generally content to parry the big left serves that kept coming from Shelton and then doing what he could to make the baseline back and forth better.

More stable than spectacular, Paul limited his mistakes with compact swings off both wings.

Tommy Paul is the first American to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2009. Dita Alangkara/AP

Earlier in the match, Shelton called Paul a “good friend” and credited him with “being one of those Americans who almost took me under their wing and helped me through some of the early stages of a professional career.” ”

They shared a light moment when Paul’s coach Brad Stine told him to look for a serve on the court’s ads side. Shelton spotted the exchange and kicked his serve wide, leaving Paul out of position with no shot at the ace. Both players smiled.

Paul was already two sets ahead, broke in the third set and led 4-3, then served with 30-Love. But he made a small mistake. He missed a forehand, was forced to a faulty forehand, made a double fault and missed a forehand to get broken for the first time in the match.

Shelton broke again to steal that set when Paul sailed a long backhand. Shelton – the far more demonstrative of the two players – yelled, “Yeah!” as he raised his left fist, then jabbed his right index finger at his ear, as if telling the crowd, “Let me hear you! ”

Perhaps Shelton relaxed a bit there, as he started the fourth set slowly, hitting double faults twice in a row and then missing a backhand to pack a break for Paul, who quickly went 2-0 up.

Soon it was Paul who let out a whoop of joy – “Let’s go!” – after the final point, then met Shelton at the net for a warm hug.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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