At a Wednesday meeting of first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalists, Tommy Paul used his experience and consistency to ground Ben Shelton’s electric strike at the Australian Open.
A 7-6(6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 winner at the Rod Laver Arena, Paul controlled much of the match with his aggressive but steady starting game. A late Shelton surge forced a fourth set, but Paul reacted immediately to end his 20-year-old opponent’s tournament debut.
“Getting to the second weekend of a Slam is everyone’s dream when they start playing tennis,” said Paul after advancing to his first major semifinal. “So I can’t believe I’m here now.”
After three Americans reached the Melbourne quarterfinals for the first time since 2000, Paul is the first US man to reach the semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2009 and the third active American to advance to the last four of a Grand Slam (John Isner , Frances Tiafoe). The matchup between Paul and Shelton was the first all-American major quarterfinal since the 2007 Australian Open.
World No. 35 Paul was just as offensively inclined as his explosive opponent, with both men deadly on serves and early rallies for much of the three hour and six minute match. But Paul was up a league in the longer exchanges, hitting 43 winners to 26 unforced errors in what was a Laver debut for both contestants.
Although Shelton’s lefty serves were batted in faster than his opponent’s, Paul was more effective in supporting his deliveries on the ground, winning 86 percent of his first-serve points to Shelton’s 76 percent – despite the youngster’s 24 aces American.
“I’m really happy that I got through that game,” Paul added in his on-court interview. “There wasn’t too much rhythm in the game, but Ben is a very difficult player to play against and he will play many more games like this, so I think everyone should be very excited for that lad.”
At the end of a high-quality opening set with just one break point – saved by Shelton at 1-1 – a single, late mini-break decided the tie-break as Paul held on from the baseline to win two extended rallies at 6/6.
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The 25-year-old’s pressure on return showed in set two as he converted his fourth break chance of the match into a 4-2 lead – but only after escaping 15/40 when Shelton took his first two break chances of the match competition created. Paul was on the verge of a straight-sets win, breaking at 4–3 in the third, until Shelton called in a second wind to extend the game, much to the delight of the Laver crowd.
There would be no comeback in set four as Paul dominated on serve after an immediate break, his third of the match. He won all 17 of his first serve points in the final set and lost just three points on the second serve.
Paul has moved up 16 places this week to No. 19 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, breaking into the Top 20 for the first time. He would reach the Top 10 if he can win his first Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne, with Novak Djokovic or Andrey Rublev next as his semi-final opponent.
“I did some interviews and they asked what it feels like to be in the quarter-finals,” said Paul. “And I thought, ‘Semi-final sounds a little better.’ I’m excited to be there and obviously very excited whoever I’m playing for on Friday.”
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Advancing to the quarterfinals on his Australian Open debut, Shelton moved up 46 spots on the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings to No. 43. He will be one of 10 Americans in the Top 50 next Monday.
The former Florida Gator made a bid to become the fourth man in the Open Era to reach the semifinals in his second Grand Slam appearance. The Atlanta native also wanted to become the youngest Australian Open semifinalist since 1992.