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“A force to be reckoned with” – Alexei Popyrin on what makes American Ben Shelton a promising talent

Into the second week in just his second appearance at a Grand Slam, American Ben Shelton is high on promise but low on expectations.

Ben Shelton 2023 Australian open Ben Shelton 2023 Australian open || AI / Reuters / Panoramic

He’s making it look easy. In his second Grand Slam main draw, 20-year-old American Ben Shelton finds himself in the second week at the Australian Open for the first time. Not only is the hard-serving southpaw impressing American tennis fans, many of whom have just become aware of the talent – and moxie – that the former NCAA player possesses, he’s also impressing his peers on tour.

Alexei Popyrin, who had his emotional run ended by Shelton in front of screaming throngs decked out in green and gold in John Cain Arena on Saturday, believes that the American could rocket to the top 10 in no time.

“Honestly if this is the way he plays day in, day out, the guy is top 10 in six months,” he said after falling 6-3 7-6 6-4 to Shelton in two hours. “Maybe he can play better than the way he played today, but if he continues playing the way he played like this, then he’s a force to be reckoned with, honestly.”

Shelton’s impeccable serving stats

Among the 16 players remaining in the men’s singles draw in Melbourne, no one has won a higher percentage of first-serve points than Shelton (83 percent). Same for second serve – Shelton has won an impressive 64 percent (88/138) of his second-serve points.

The serve is one of the many reasons that the Atlanta native is proving to be such a quick study on the Grand Slam stage.

“I think he hit the lines,” Popyrin said. “He averages second serves at 190. Not much you can do in terms of attacking a second serve. If he plays like this… It makes it even harder that he’s a lefty.”

Shelton – I’m not expecting a ton from myself

Shelton only has 11 tour-level matches under his belt, and four at the Grand Slam level, and he says he is not getting caught up in establishing numerical goals for himself. The world No 89 could crack the top-50 if he can defeat JJ Wolf in a winnable round of 16 matchup in Melbourne, but he’d rather not focus on the number next to his name.

“I try to keep myself grounded and know that when there’s highs, there’s always lows,” he said. “I’m not expecting a ton from myself. I want to do well, and I want to improve my game, but I’m trying not to put number limitations in my head because there’s always something more that you can strive for.

“So I’m just trying to be the best version of myself, and whatever that looks like at the end of this year, at the end of next year, if I know that I left it all on the table that year and I gave it everything I had and did everything that I could to get myself ready for tournaments, then I’ll be happy with it.”

Nevertheless, when Shelton got word of Popyrin’s comments, he was happy to hear them.

“That’s a really nice comment from him, though,” he said with a smile.

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