Ben Shelton's assured and exuberant presence at the 2023 US Open captivated the global tennis audience, marking a modern rarity in the world of NCAA tennis.
Shelton spent two seasons playing at the University of Florida under the tutelage of his head coach and father Bryan Shelton, guiding the Gators to a team championship in 2021 before securing an individual singles title the following year. Since declaring professional status, Shelton’s ascent hurled him into the U.S. Open men’s semifinals, making him the second ex-NCAA men's semifinalist since 2000 (Kevin Anderson, who played at Illinois reached the 2017 US Open final.)
To celebrate Shelton’s trailblazing run, here’s a look back at the strong-serving star’s finest moments as a Florida Gator. First a few quick notables:
- 65-10 career singles record, including 37-5 in 2021-22
- 24-2 career tournament singles record (17-1 in 2021-22)
- 2022 NCAA men's singles champion and doubles quarterfinalist
- 2022 ITA National Player of the Year
- Finished ranked No. 1 in singles and No. 5 in doubles (with Sam Riffice)
- 2022 SEC Player of the Year and First Team All-SEC
- 2022 SEC tournament MVP, tournament champion
- Clinched the national championship match against Baylor to win the 2021 team title
Shelton rallies to secure 2022 NCAA singles title
With a dominant tally in tournament singles matches heading into a finals bout against San Diego’s August Holmgren, Shelton found himself in an unusual position as the Torero took the opening set and forced a 1-1 deadlock in the second.
A stirring fightback from Shelton saw him snatch 10 of the next 14 points and vault himself into much more familiar footing, using his patently powerful serve on match point to force Holmgren immediately onto the back foot.
The brief subsequent rally ended with Shelton’s ferocious forehand along the left sideline, meriting Florida’s second-straight singles championship and a recognizable fistbump from Shelton.
Shelton clinches 2021 team championship for Florida
The strained larynxes of Florida’s largely victorious roster turned their cheers toward Shelton, for whom a singles victory would clinch the Gators’ first team tennis championship in program history.
Florida’s freshman phenom had previously teamed up with junior Sam Riffice in a dominant doubles effort and, after a first-set defeat, rallied to establish a comfortable 5-2 advantage in the final frame.
Trailing 40-0, a misplaced return from Baylor’s Charlie Broom flew well beyond the baseline, seeing Shelton ceremoniously fling his racket skyward and embrace the mob of teammates swarming him to celebrate UF history.
Stunning statistical season earns Shelton 2022 ITA Player of the Year Award
Few places offer a more pronounced look at the stunning rise of Ben Shelton than the ITA National Collegiate Tennis Rankings — just 18 months after slotting in at 86th on the 2021 preseason publication, Shelton would take an unrelenting grasp of top spot.
A couple months later, after defeating Holmgren to secure singles glory, Shelton would earn Player of the Year honors from the same organization after a dominant sophomore season. Florida’s record six-time All-American led UF’s star studded roster in wins with a dominant 37-5 record, including 28 victories against ranked opposition, and inspired elite doubles performances paired with Riffice as the duo ascended to No. 5 in the country.
Even the gauntlet of the SEC hardly phased Shelton, who managed a 10-2 mark in conference singles matches and scooped up SEC Player of the Year honors as well.
Game-by-game: Shelton’s 2022 single’s run
Shelton’s run to the 2022 NCAA singles championship was defined by predictable dominance, dispatching of his first four opponents in clean sweeps and handling late-round setbacks with calm.
Here’s a look at each victory in his run to the championship crown:
|Round of 64||#27 Ondrej Styler||Michigan||7-5, 6-2|
|Round of 32||#57 Axel Nefve||Notre Dame||6-0, 7-6 (1)|
|Round of 16||#19 JJ Tracy||Ohio State||6-4, 6-4|
|Quarterfinal||#15 Arthur Fery||Stanford||6-3, 6-4|
|Semifinal||#3 Adam Walton||Tennessee||6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5|
|Finals||#6 August Holmgren||San Diego||4-6, 6-3, 6-2|