Former Buchholz High School star Ben Shelton shocked the tennis world Tuesday night, when he became the youngest American man in three decades to advance to the U.S. Open semifinals.
The 20-year-old Shelton, who won a national title for the Florida Gators last year, defeated No. 10 seed Frances Tiafoe 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 to advance to Friday’s semifinals.
“Tonight was a real physical battle,” Shelton said at the post-match press conference on a humid night in Queens, New York. “I think both of us were finishing points fairly tired, trying to catch our breath… Walking to get my towel in the fourth set, it’s like, ‘This is the greatest moment on the tennis court of my life, and I’m in a lot of pain.'”
Shelton used his electric serve to finish the match with 14 aces. He said the pivotal moment came in the third set when Tiafoe came close to taking a 2-1 lead.
“End of that third set is when I really had to dig deep,” Shelton said. “Honestly, at down set point I needed to let a little bit of that frustration out and kind of just let it go… I kind of needed a release, and it ended up working out for me.”
The quarterfinal win continued a remarkable run for Shelton, who began last summer ranked No. 547 in the world.
Shelton, winner of a Class 4A singles state title at Buchholz in 2019, only won his first professional matches in January. Playing at the Australian Open, he become the first American man in 20 years to reach a major quarterfinal before turning 21, eventually falling to fellow American Tommy Paul in the quarterfinals.
But this time the task is even more daunting. On Friday Shelton will face the world’s No. 2 player, Novak Djokovic, who will be playing in his record 47th Grand Slam semifinal match.
“I’m pretty glad I have two days off,” Shelton said with a laugh. “I’m pretty pumped about the opportunity to go back out there and have the same feeling that I had today against another really tough opponent.”
Djokovic has 95 singles titles and won 1,069 professional matches (1,069-211), while Shelton (15-23) is seeking his first title. The last American man to win the U.S. Open was Andy Roddick in 2003—the longest American drought since the U.S. Open began in 1881.
The Serbian Djokovic has been ranked Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) world No. 1 for a record total of 389 weeks in a record 12 different years, and finished as the ATP year-end No. 1 a record seven times.
Djokovic is also the ATP’s all-time career prize money leader, with more than $172 million in total winnings. Shelton has so far earned $1.4 million in prize money.
Although he has only been playing professionally for a year, Shelton—the son of former Gator tennis coach Bryan Shelton—is currently ranked No. 47. He is set to move into the top 20, besting his previous career-high ATP singles ranking of No. 35, which he achieved on May 8.
Back in Gainesville, the tennis community is closely watching Shelton’s success.
“He is making history and has the support from all of us in Gainesville,” said Bobbie Mehan, a former Buchholz girls tennis coach who coached Ben and his sister Emma. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, and he is just getting started. The sport of tennis will continue to grow with Ben Shelton as one of the leading U.S. men.”
Shelton’s U.S. Open performance continues an amazing run for area athletes on national and international stages.
Last month, local athlete Grant Holloway—a close friend who trains with Shelton—won his third straight world championship in the 110-meter hurdles.
Also in August, former Oak Hall School runner Tamari Davis was a member of the U.S. gold medal 4×100 relay team at the World Championships in Budapest. Davis was the 2019 Class 1A state champion in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes where she ran the fastest times among all four classification winners.
This past April, former Eastside High School quarterback Anthony Richardson was selected fourth overall by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2023 NFL Draft.
In July, former Trenton High School baseball player Wyatt Langford was taken fourth overall by the Texas Rangers in the Major League Baseball Draft. This week he was promoted to Double-A after only 27 pro games.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated.