It all started with a simple text message that, if Bryan Shelton’s memory serves him, went something like this:
“That coulda got really interesting,” wrote his then-20-year-old son, Ben, moments after he won a fifth-set tiebreaker against Zhizhen Zhang at last year’s Australian Open, clinching that first-round match.
Had it not been for that win, in a match that began in the morning and ended at night under the lights, during which Shelton survived a heat postponement, a rain delay and a match point, he might never have had the breakout season that he had last year.
“Not sure I remember it that way, because it did get kind of interesting,” said Shelton by phone shortly after he and his father traveled to Brisbane, Australia, from their Florida home in late December to begin the 2024 season with a pre-Australian Open warm-up tournament. Shelton did, however, recall the unreturnable serve he hit at 4-5, 30-40 down in the fifth set.
Shelton left last year’s Australian Open, his first trip abroad, as a quarterfinalist after succumbing to his friend and fellow American Tommy Paul. By season’s end, Shelton had reached the semifinals at the United States Open alongside the world’s top three players — Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev — and cracked the ATP’s top 15. The young American had begun 2023, his first full year on tour, ranked barely inside the top 100.
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