By Sigurd Neubauer
Ben Shelton, 21, is having a great year. On Sunday, he won his first ATP title at the 2023 Kinoshita Group Japan Open where he easily defeated Aslan Karatsev, 30, 7-5, 6-1, in the final.
His Tokyo victory comes on the heels of another spectacular performance at the newly completed Rolex Shanghai Masters where he delivered a major upset by defeating Jannik Sinner, 22, Italy’s tennis wonderkid. Prior to that, Shelton defeated Frances Tiafoe, 25, in an all-American match at the US Open.
Sinner is ranked as No. 4 whereas Shelton just reached a career high at No. 15. He started the season at No. 96.
Commenting on Shelton’s successful season, President Vesa Ponkka of the Junior Tennis Champions Center (JTCC) explains that it all started at the Australian Open where he reached the quarterfinals. “He’s like the kid in the candy store; he’s an excellent player who is experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ and having the time of life.” The American, Ponkka adds, is “playing pressure free at the moment – even ‘with house money’- as he has no points to lose.”
This will, of course, be different next year once he has to defend the points he earned this year. The JTCC President, who is also one of America’s preeminent tennis coaches, says that Shelton’s own expectations – as well as those of others – will change next year as he will have a record to defend.
Ponkka predicts that Shelton’s next achievement will be to become a top 10 player. At the moment, U.S. men’s tennis have four out of the top 15 – Taylor Fritz, 25, is No. 9; Tommy Paul, 26, is No. 12; Tiafoe, 14; and Shelton, 15.
“Shelton could even win a Grand Slam within the next couple of years as he may very well lead the American pack,” Ponkka says, then quips: “By mid-next year, we’ll find out whether he’s able to deal with the pressure.”
Responding to what stood out at the Japan Open, the JTCC President points out that Shelton played with joy and was having fun, adding that he took chances and brought his momentum from the US Open with him. “In Tokyo he enjoyed a clean performance and clearly had a great time playing.”
On what’s next for the American, Ponkka explains that he will participate in the upcoming Rolex Paris Masters in Paris, France (October 30-November 6). “He may even play in one of the smaller tournaments in Europe before getting ready for the 2024 Australian Open in January,” he says.
Shelton has climbed the ranks: He started the 2023 season being ranked No. 96 and is currently No. 15
By mid-next year, we’ll find out whether Shelton is able to deal with the pressure: Ponkka