Ben Shelton: He’s only 20 years old, just left his home country for the first time in January and already he’s giving the best players in the world a serious challenge.

Is Shelton the real deal American men’s tennis has been waiting for? It’s certainly trending that way, but the European red clay season will be the true test. Here’s why.

What Ben Shelton Has

Shelton has a father-slash-coach who is a former pro tennis player and understands the ropes. Like Richard Williams, he opted to bring his protege along at his own pace, outside the grind and glare of the global junior circuit. Shelton was permitted to play other sports growing up and even went to college for two years. That strategy can greatly reduce the odds of burnout.

It will be interesting to see how Shelton and his upbringing fare against some of the players who were trained in the iron-fisted tennis regimes of the Eastern Bloc. Which system will win the day, ultimately?

Another major plus for Ben Shelton: He’s left-handed. Shelton names Rafael Nadal as the player he most admires. His serves audaciously spin in ways no opponent wants to see. Unlike Rafa, Shelton has a massive lefty kick serve. He clocks his slice in the 140-mph range. That serve will take him far on any surface.

Looking at the stats, Shelton sits at number 4 on the overall ATP serve rating for the past 52 weeks. That’s stunning. He’s high in all the major serving categories, including percentage of first and second serve points won. Opponents better pray he has a day where he puts a low number of first serves in, because he’s a stone cold lock to win first serve points.

He’s entertaining. Not in a Nick Kyrgios “trick shot” way but more in a Carlos Alcaraz let-the-incredible-points-do-the-talking way. Imagine this: Alcaraz versus Shelton late night at the U.S. Open. That’s the kind of electric tilt tennis fans will long for as the Big 3 wind it down.

What Ben Shelton Does Not Have

The biggest factor Shelton does not have is experience. After Indian Wells, he makes one of the toughest transitions in tennis: Miami Open to Monte Carlo. Shelton has never even been to Europe, much less played on red clay there. He has trained on red clay in the United States, but it’s just not the same.

At Indian Wells, Shelton lost to fellow American Taylor Fritz in three hard-fought sets. That’s a decent gauge of where he’s at right now. Fritz is the defending champ and a Top 10 player in the world. That match tells us that Sheltons’ trajectory is sky high. But Europe is different.

How many times have we seen standout Americans with loads of potential hit the European red clay season with a thud?

Additionally, Shelton says he prefers an aggressive style, coming to net and even hopes to serve-and-volley more. Of all the surfaces, that works the least on red clay. He’ll see. He’ll learn. The patience and fitness required is next level, and the tournament fields are jammed with guys who grew up on the dirt and specialize in this.

Let’s talk about Ben Shelton now and enjoy a potential strong run in Miami, because come April, he’s in for a true learning experience– and we’ll learn more about him as well.



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