Can US Open sensation Shelton topple Djokovic in the semifinals?

US Open sensation Ben Shelton had never left America until this year… now he is back home, wowing US fans with his 149mph serve and his exuberance – but can he topple Novak Djokovic?

  • American Ben Shelton faces Novak Djokovic in the US Open semifinals on Friday
  • The 20-year-old has been a hit with the home crowd en his route to the last four
  • provides all the latest international sports news

It comes as little surprise to Mark Petchey, former British Davis Cup player turned commentator, that Ben Shelton is emerging as such a well-rounded success story.

Bryan Shelton, father of tonight’s surprise US Open semi-finalist, was not just Petchey’s one-time doubles partner but a source of personal help and support when he travelled the tour as a young professional.

On Friday night, his 20 year-old son Ben will try and prevent Novak Djokovic from returning to the Flushing Meadows final. Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz will face 2021 New York champion Daniil Medvedev on the other side of the draw.

Shelton Jr. has captured public imagination, not just with his 149mph lefthanded serve but a natural exuberance which suggests he has been enjoying the whole experience.

For Petchey his run has provided a vicarious pleasure, due to fond memories of time spent with the family and his former team-mate.

Ben Shelton has captured public imagination en route to his first Grand Slam semifinal

The 20-year-old American had not set foot outside the United States until earlier this year

‘Bryan was maybe the nicest human being I ever met on tour,’ Petchey tells Mail Sport. ‘When I was travelling on my own and a bit alone he once put me up at his home in Atlanta for two weeks so that I could train with him. Not just a great person but he always had a great tennis brain, and he gave me completely new insights into how patterns of play work.

‘I once played Andre Agassi in Miami and before I played him Bryan told me how Andre would return serve, and he was spot on. He is incredibly generous and knowledgeable and I’m not surprised to see him be so successful in coaching (at the University of Florida) and with his own son. He has obviously done an amazing all round job with Ben and I couldn’t be more happy for them.’

Bryan, who made Wimbledon’s last sixteen in 1994, took a highly unusual approach to his son’s development in that he never wanted him to be on the international tennis treadmill before reaching adulthood.

When Ben turned up in Adelaide in January, just before making a breakthrough run to the Australian Open quarter finals, it was the first time he had ever set foot outside the United States.

His father explains that this was an entirely deliberate policy for his son, who before reaching his teens wanted to use his golden left arm to become a quarterback.

On Friday, Shelton will try and prevent Novak Djokovic from returning to the US Open final

‘My wife Lisa and I, our thoughts were that we wanted our kids to be well-balanced children and later become well-balanced young adults,’ said Bryan.

‘Having a normal life as far as going to regular school and having friends and socially being in a good place, getting a good, solid education – we really tried to put the emphasis on those things before the sports stuff. We also realised that sport was a great thing to help teach valuable lessons.

‘We weren’t thinking that Ben or Emma (their daughter) would go on and play professional sports. It was more we wanted them to be well-adjusted kids that love life, love people.

‘As far as playing inside Florida, yeah, I always have the inside-out approach. If you can dominate your inner circle, then you can move out a little bit further one step at a time. We really tried to never skip steps.

‘I think that’s really important, because a lot of people don’t like to deal with the pressure of playing amongst your peers and the people that are right in your own backyard. You would see that.

‘They had this fear of someone getting ahead or someone being better than their kid or this or that. For us it’s all about development; first their character and who they are as a person, and then the tennis part.

‘Here in the United States, our college system is based on hard courts, which I think is the greatest system in the world.’

Bryan Shelton, a former professional, took a highly unusual approach to his son’s development

Ben enrolled at University, where he worked with several coaches including his father. His improvement became so rapid that he left to go professional, and his father has now quit to go on the road with him.

His match against Djokovic will pit the raw power of the young American against probably the greatest returner the sport has ever seen. It remains a huge ask to topple the 36 year-old Serbian, but Shelton is assured of massive support in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, and Djokovic has had a relatively comfortable ride up to this point.

Many neutrals would be happy to see another heavyweight showdown between the top two seeds in Sunday’s final, all three of their meetings this season having been pulsating affairs.

A threat to that is Medvedev, the deceptively outstanding athlete who stopped Djokovic completing the calendar Grand Slam in the 2021 final.

The women’s semi-finals were due to be played on Thursday night, with Coco Gauff against Karolina Muchova and Madison Keys versus Aryna Sabalenka.

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