“You could only hope to have a fighting spirit like him” – Ben Shelton, on how he takes inspiration from Nadal

When it comes to fighting spirit and professionalism, Ben Shelton says he has found the perfect role model in the great Rafael Nadal.

Ben Shelton Ben Shelton at the 2023 US Open (Chryslene Caillaud/Panoramic)

After his 7-6(4), 6-1 win over Arthur Fils to open the 2023 Laver Cup, exuberant and dynamic American Ben Shelton was told by a reporters that he has a similar that he had a “Rafa-esque” vibe. That was all it took to get the 20-year-old raving about what the King of Clay has meant to him as a competitor.

“I think at times on the court, the way that I love to fight, that I don’t give up, could be some traits that I saw or learned from Rafa growing up,” he said. “He was one of those guys who replicated it every match, every tournament. You could only hope to have a fighting spirit like him.”

Shelton, with his burly physique and leftiness, has always looked to Rafa for inspiration. He has learned from watching the 22-time Grand Slam champion use his emotions to fuel himself as well. They may not play – or act – a lot like each other, but the pair are certainly similar in that regard.

In his first full year on tour, Shelton has already developed a reputation for his non-stop motor, his positive energy and his ability to rise to big occasions. Sound familiar?

Shelton elaborated on those similarities, saying: “I think that some of the things that, we have seen him do on the court definitely help me out on the court, showing some emotion, showing my fire, and trying to really come after the guy that I’m playing.”

Earlier this season Shelton explained his feelings about Nadal, and clarified that he things about being a competitor more than being a showman. Those who have watched him this season, particularly at UTS in Los Angeles, where he let loose and was the life of the party and a major trash talker, know he has the ability to be both.

“Nick Kyrgios or Gael Monfils are not references for me in this respect,” he said in March. “I don’t think I am trying to be a showman. I’m just trying to compete at the highest level, whatever that may be. I’m not out there to try to be this ‘showy guy’ who is doing trick shots.

“I’m really focused on my tennis and trying to compete at the highest level. So I would say the guy in that aspect that I looked up to was Rafael Nadal. Even though we have different ways of expressing ourselves on court.”

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