With each passing day, the former Gator Ben Shelton makes more history. (Photo credit: Loren Elliot, Reuters)
You want to talk about a meteoric rise?
One year and eight months ago, Ben Shelton was making history with the Gators. Playing fifth singles for Florida’s men’s tennis team- which, to that point, had a semi-storied history but no national championship- was a freshman, Shelton changed that. He clinched the Gators’ first team national championship with his victory at fifth singles over Baylor’s Charlie Broom, adding men’s tennis to the list of #EverythingSchool achievements.
Shelton would go on to have a storied career with the Gators. The coach’s son would rise all the way up to the #1 singles spot for Florida, and as a sophomore, Shelton would win the individual singles national title at the NCAA tournament in May of 2022. He became the second straight Gator to do so after his teammate Sam Riffice did it a year ago.
Ben Shelton, as it turned out, would have too storied of a career in two years to possibly justify a third year in college. He knocked off the #5 player in the world in Casper Ruud in Cincinnati and won three straight ATP Challenger tournaments this past fall, so he decided to go pro.
Shelton’s rise this offseason garnered him a top 104 ranking, granting him a slot into the Australian Open on merit. He’d played in the US Open before, but that was because he’d been given a Wild Card by virtue of winning the individual singles title at the NCAA tournament. This time, he’d earned his spot in a Grand Slam major based on his professional rankings- and all he did was take the tennis world by storm.
At just 20 years old, Ben Shelton has launched a magical run to the Australian Open quarterfinals. Dispatching Chinese player Zhang Zhizhen in round one, Chilean qualifier Nicolas Jarry in round two, Australian wild card entrant Alexei Papyrin in round three, and fellow American youngster- and former Ohio State Buckeye- JJ Wolf in round four, Shelton has orchestrated a ride that has set a variety of records and made multiple types of history.
First, Shelton has become the first Gator men’s tennis player to reach the Round of 16 at any Grand Slam singles draw (Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open, US Open). A pair of Gator men had reached the Round of 32 before: Jesse Levine at Wimbledon in 2009, and Jeff Morrison at Wimbledon in 2002.
Second, Ben Shelton, has become the first American man to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in his main draw debut since 1990. If you even casually follow tennis, you may have heard of at least two of the other three: Tennys Sandgren, Andre Agassi, and Patrick McEnroe.
Third, Ben Shelton becomes the first reigning NCAA singles champion to reach the following year’s Australian Open quarterfinals since Arthur Ashe did it as the defending NCAA singles champ from UCLA.
And last but not least, Shelton becomes the first American man to reach the quarterfinals of one of the four major Grand Slam tournaments before turning 21 since Andy Roddick. Roddick accomplished the feat at 2003 Wimbledon.
The son of former tennis pro Bryan Shelton- a very accomplished player in his own right- Shelton never forgets where he came from. The Gator legend frequently does the Gator Chomp to conclude interviews and shouts out the Gator men’s tennis program every chance he gets. Typically, this is a sign of a player who always stays grounded, humble, and hungry- each of which are very accurate labels for Shelton- and it’s clearly been paying off in a big way.
And as Shelton continues to carry that Gator flag to higher and higher mountaintops, the entirety of Gator Nation should sit back and watch his climb. Because there has never been a Gator like him before, and might not be another like him to come for a long, long time.