Tommy Paul He received far less attention than his younger and less experienced opponent, Ben Sheltonheading into the quarter-finals of the US Open at the Australian Open.
Perhaps it was a product of Shelton’s never-before-seen magic: Just 20 and less than a year after winning the NCAA title in Florida, he was traveling outside the United States for the first time and making his second major championship. Competition.
So the loud cries most often heard from Rod Laver Arena Wednesday, in the 87-degree sun, were for one of the couple: “Let’s go, Benny! Let’s go!” or “Go, Gators!”
“It was a very good ride,” Paul remarked.
Paul’s story is a good one too, and one that will continue at Melbourne Park. The 25-year-old was a star in the junior class and now lives up to that promise in the pros, using a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 win over Shilton to reach his goal. First Grand Slam semi-finalist in his fourteenth appearance at a major tournament.
“Every beginner to pro has a different path… Taylor FritzAnd Francis Tiafoe And Riley Opelka. “I like to think that the last four years of my career have been just steady steps forward. I mean, that’s how I felt. I feel like 2023 is the year I really make the leap.”
As a bonus, Paul’s mom was in the crowd for the biggest victory of his career. Paul said his mother booked a flight after his Round 4 win, then went straight from work to the airport to catch the long flight from the United States.
“You’ve done so much for me, from the time I was so young until now. You’ve sacrificed so much to get me here,” said Paul. “She deserves to be here and she deserves to see me win big games.”
Paul’s next challenger will be the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion Novak Djokovicwho overshadowed the No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. After dealing with a worrisome left hamstring in his first two matches, Djokovic has been in great shape: He’s won his past 11 sets and lost a total of 27 matches in that span as he chases a 10th tournament in Melbourne.
These wins give Djokovic confidence going into the semi-finals, a run he has never lost at the Australian Open.
“The last two games, playing against really good players, players in form, to beat them dominantly in three sets is something I definitely want at this moment, something that sends a message to all my remaining opponents,” Djokovic said. “With this type of game, of course the level of confidence goes up.”
After dropping Rublev’s major quarterfinal record to 0-7 and extending his Australian Open winning streak to 26 matches, tying Andre Agassi for the longest there in the Open Era, Djokovic looked forward to facing Paul for the first time.
“I know how he plays… He’s been around for a few years. I’ve watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He’s probably been playing tennis his whole life,” said Djokovic. “A very explosive and very dynamic player.”
The other men’s semi-final on Friday is Stefanos Tsitsipas against Karen Khachanov. The women’s semi-finals will be Thursday (3:30 a.m. ET) Victoria Azarenka against. Elena Rybakina And Ariana Sabalenka against. Magda Lynette.
Paul broke through as a teenager, taking the 2015 French Open junior title (beating Fritz) and reaching the final at Flushing Meadows that year as well (losing to Fritz). Since turning pro, he’s won one trophy at tour level, in Stockholm in 2021, and until this week, he’s reached the fourth round in just one Grand Slam tournament – at Wimbledon a year ago.
Now Paul is the first man from his country to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2009. Roddick was also the last man from the United States to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, at the US Open 20 years ago.
While Shelton was kind of embraced by the locals—”the crowds were so great…they kind of treated me like one of their own,” he noted—Paul didn’t attract as much adoration.
“I was on the outside courts, right up until the last 16,” said Paul. “I’ve been flying a little bit under the radar.”
Based solely on the rankings, Paul provided a tougher test than anyone Shilton had faced in Australia: his previous opponents ranked 67th, 96th, 113th and 154th.
Meanwhile, Paul took two seeds: No. 24 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
In the first Grand Slam quarter-final between two Americans since 2007, when Roddick beat Mardy Fish in Melbourne, Paul was generally content to block the big left blows that kept coming from Shelton and then do what he could to get the better of the fullback – and -finger.
More consistent than spectacular, Paul limited his errors with compact swings from both wings.
“Very solid from the baseline,” Shelton said. “He did a great job of moving me around the court, keeping my balance.”
They shared a lighthearted moment when Paul’s coach, Brad Stein, asked him to look for a serve in the “T” on the advertising side of the court. Shilton noticed the exchange and kicked his serve wide, leaving Paul out of position and with no chance of reaching the ace. Both players smiled.
Shelton broke twice late in the third to steal that set and yelled, “Yeah!” He raises his left fist and then points to his ear with his right index finger, as if telling the audience: “Let me hear you!”
Perhaps Shilton relaxed a bit there, because he started the next set poorly, double-faulting twice in a row, then missing a backhand to go into a break for Paul.
Soon after, Paul was letting out a shriek of delight – “Let’s go!” — after the last point, then meeting Shelton on the net for a warm hug.
ESPN’s Matt Walsh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.