In a year of first-place finishes, Ben Shelton ticked off another milestone on Monday when he made his tour-level grass court debut at the Cinch Championships.
After hitting the surface for the first time last week, the American earned his maiden win on grass when he defeated JJ Wolf in straight sets in London.
“I only had my first session on a grass court last Tuesday,” Shelton told ATPTour.com. “There are definitely some big differences in clay. I think the hardest part to figure out on grass is the movement. Once you get it down, it’s much easier to play on the surface. I think between the movement and the ball staying a little lower, those are two things that I just had to adjust to.
“But my first match was a lot of fun. I think the grass really helps my serve. It makes it move more and it makes it faster. I’m also willing and able to come forward and play on the net. I think it’s a different thing that’s rewarded on a grass court. I think it’s a surface that I could really do some damage on.”
The American has had a breakthrough first season on Tour, reaching the quarter-finals at the Australian Open before competing on clay for the first time in April.
The 20-year-old claimed two tour-level victories on the surface and he reached the quarter-finals at an ATP Challenger Tour tournament in Cagliari. Ready to tackle a new surface again, Shelton hopes to use the learning experience he gained on clay on grass.
“It’s two completely different surfaces, but it’s definitely a similar learning process,” Shelton said. “I know things that I did or didn’t do last time, so this time hopefully I’ll make changes and not make the same mistake twice. I think being able to go through that process once on dirt tracks will definitely help me during these four weeks on the grass.”
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Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
One source of knowledge Shelton will look to tap into is his father, former world No. 55 Bryan Shelton, who this week joined Ben’s team full-time. Bryan, who was the head men’s tennis coach at the University of Florida, won two tour-level titles on grass (Newport 1991-92) and advanced to the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1994.
“This is our first official tournament together full-time. He’s really helping my confidence with the way he talks to me on the court and the way he explains things,” said Ben.
“He’s a great resource and I know a great tennis mind. He won two ATP titles on grass and reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon. To be able to have that resource, that tennis mind in my corner that in a way helps me as I walk, it has been really important and helped me a lot.”
Shelton showed early promise on grass during his first-round victory at the ATP 500 event, winning 72 percent (13/18) of net points. He revealed that his father has already given guidance focusing on his movement.
“He’s told me a few general things that have just helped me find my footing and my movement,” Shelton said. “Things you want to do or not do. To really move through the ball and not try to stop and slide, which is something I do a lot on clay courts and hard courts.
“That was a big learning curve for me. Learning to take little extra steps after shots instead of sliding out of them. Also using my serve effectively and getting it to move in different ways because the grass really grabs the ball and gets it to go.”
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Twelve months ago, Shelton was No. 435 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. This week he competes at The Queen’s Club at a career-high No. 35. The American had never been outside the United States prior to his trip to Australia at the start of the year, but has already gained a good amount of Tour experience, with Queen’s his 15th tour event of the season.
“I’ve had a lot of fun. Definitely after Roland Garros it was really mixed. I missed home and I was glad to be able to come back and spend some time in Florida. I’m really enjoying it,” Shelton said. “I enjoy all the new experiences and I love to compete. So every time I get to play in a tournament and work my way through a draw or learn things as I go, enjoy I really do.
“I think it’s really important to find the places you like to play so you can make adjustments to your schedule as you go. I think playing a lot will help me in the long run and I really enjoy being able to experience all these different tournaments.”
Shelton will next play Lorenzo Musetti, who participated in the Next Gen ATP Finals in 2021 and 2022. The 20-year-old Shelton has ambitions to make his debut at the 21-and-under event at the end of the season. The American is currently fifth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Next Gen Race.
“I think that would be an event that would be really cool to play and we’ll see where we are at the end of the year,” Shelton said. “I think it could be a tournament that would be really cool to be a part of.”
Shelton’s focus will remain on grass for now, where he will also compete at the ATP 250 event in Mallorca before making his Wimbledon debut.