Few would have expected either of these men to reach the quarterfinal stage in Melbourne, but Paul’s experience told as he won 7-6 6-3 5-7 6-4 to set up a semifinal clash against either nine-time winner Novak Djokovic or world No. 6 Andrey Rublev.
Paul, currently ranked No. 35 in the world, is now guaranteed to climb into the world’s top 20 for the first time in his career and becomes the first American man to reach the last four of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2009.
“This is my first time on this court [Rod Laver Arena], my first in the quarterfinals of a slam,” the 25-year-old Paul said after the match. “It is also Ben Shelton’s first time leaving the States, so I think he’s had a pretty good tournament as well.
“Making it to the second weekend of a slam is everyone’s dream when they start playing tennis, so I can’t believe I’m here right now.”
Shelton has been the revelation of this Australian Open.
The big-hitting lefty was playing in only the second grand slam of his career – the first coming at the US Open at the end of 2022 – and before traveling to New Zealand and Australia in preparation for the first grand slam of the year had never even been outside of the US.
The 20-year-old currently boasts a career-high ranking – world No. 89 – and his performances so far in Australia means he will now be ranked in the world’s top 50 come Monday.
Shelton gave a good account of himself in Wednesday’s match, fighting back from a break down to take the third set when it looked as though Paul would walk away with a straight sets win.
Shelton also fired down 24 aces during the match, the fastest a booming 220 km/h, and 42 winners. However, it was the lack of consistency and unforced errors – 50 compared to Paul’s 26 – that helped his opponent come away with the win.
With compatriot Sebastian Korda also reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne, it was the first time since 2000 – when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Chris Woodruff reached the last eight – that three US players have made the Australian Open’s quarterfinals.
The 2023 season was already looking like a promising one for American tennis – with Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff leading the charge – but the emergence of Paul and Shelton as contenders to go deep in grand slams only makes it all the more exciting.