Defending Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal trained with fellow southpaw Ben Shelton ahead of the first Major of the season.. Only a few could guess that the young American would have a better run than the Spaniard, much better in fact!
Nadal suffered a left hip injury in the second round against Mackenzie McDonald and lost in straight sets, not playing well even before the setback. On the other hand, the defending NCAA champion broke the last eight and competed in his first Major quarterfinal.
With those points, Ben will crack the top 50 on Monday, ranking as the youngest American in the aforementioned group. It took Shelton five ATP tournaments to break into the top 50, while Nadal played eight events to find himself there.
However, their travels could not have been more different. Nadal barely played junior tournaments, reaching the Wimbledon semifinal in 2002 and setting his sights on professional duties.
Ben Shelton will enter the top 50 on Monday after the QF Australian Open.
Rafa made his ATP debut on home soil in Mallorca in April 2002 and scored an ATP victory as a 15-year-old.
An incredible young man won six(!!) Futures titles that year and raised his level early in 2003 to advance to four Challenger finals in the first three months. The 16-year-old reached the third round in his Monte Carlo Masters 1000 debut and repeated that in Hamburg and Wimbledon.
Not stopping there, Nadal picked up six wins in Bastad, Stuttgart and Umag and cracked the top 50 following the Segovia Challenger title at 17 years and two months. At that age, Shelton was still a junior, participating in numerous USTA junior events and never leaving the US.
Ben began his college career with the Florida Gators in 2020, working with his father Bryan. Shelton went 28-5 in his freshman season, becoming the team leader and aiming for the ultimate prize in 2022. A teenager became the NCAA singles champion last May and reached the third round in the Cincinnati Masters a few months later.
Shelton decided to turn pro and test his skills against top 100 opponents. November was the month for Ben, who dominated with his booming serve and accurate groundstrokes to take three straight Challenger crowns in Charlottesville, Knoxville and Champaign.
The young gun reached the top 100 and was set to make his first trip outside of the US. Ben turned it into an advantageous trip in Australia, playing in the same place where his parents met in 1993. Shelton saved a point from match in the first round and ousted Nicolas Jarry in the second to make a name for himself.
Not stopping there, Ben ousted Alexei Popyrin and JJ Wolf to advance to his first Major quarterfinal. Thus, he became the youngest American to do so since Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2003. Shelton fell to fellow American Tommy Paul in four sets, missing out on reaching the semifinal but earning enough points to break into the top 50 after just five ATP tournaments.