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Report: Paul makes maiden Slam semi by stopping Shelton

  • Alex Sharp

Men's singles quarterfinals

A silky-smooth showing from Tommy Paul launched the American into dreamland on Rod Laver Arena, with his maiden Grand Slam semifinal the priceless reward.

MORE: All the scores from Day 10 at AO 2023

The world No.35 halted the sensational breakout Australian Open from compatriot Ben Shelton 7-6(6) 6-3 5-7 6-4 on Wednesday to toast an "exciting crop" of American youngsters lighting up the sport. 

The build-up

It's been a while since Paul burst onto the scene back in 2015 as a junior Roland-Garros champion, before qualifying for the US Open main draw.

Steadily, he's assembled a rock-solid game and belief to arrive at the top table. Now he's here, Paul is in for the long haul. 

"I'm not satisfied. I'm going to go out there to win," stated the 25-year-old.

One practice session in Cincinnati last year is all Paul had to draw upon facing his countryman Shelton. 

"I would say I know him better as a person than as a player, just because I've spent a decent amount of time with him in the locker room. I know his dad (former pro Bryan Shelton) from when his dad was at the USTA when I was younger," continued Paul.

"This will probably be the first time that I'll have to watch some film on my opponent in this whole tournament." 

Even before Wednesday, Paul had never advanced this far at a major (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, college tennis superstar Shelton has had "a lot on my plate," with his first trip outside the USA, starting an online business degree and tearing through an Australian Open debut. 

World No.89 Shelton spoke fondly of his opponent.

"He's been one of the American guys who's kind of almost taken me under their wing, kind of helped me navigate some of the early stages of a professional career," revealed the 20-year-old. 

"He's been a good friend. I'm excited to get to play him on a big stage."

Story of the match 

Despite the massive prize on offer, both players avoided tentative, passive play and went onto court to dictate. 

They were striking cleanly, combining power and finesse to illustrate how they got this far at Melbourne Park. 

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

At 3-3, Shelton's quarterback shoulders hooked a wonderous inside-out forehand winner. The next point, Paul leapt left and in mid-flight carved a backhand volley, which was followed by Shelton's deft pick-up. This American duo were putting on some show.

The crowd rallied behind the youngster with chants of "Ben, Ben, Ben, oi, oi, oi" as well as "Let's go Benny, let's go," into a college tennis throwback of  "Go Gators." 

The 2022 NCAA singles champion obliged to force a tiebreak. However, Paul pulled clear, soaking up the Shelton aggression, his exceptional timing making difficult shots look effortless. 

Paul, previously chalking up a Grand Slam best fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon 2022, targeted the Shelton backhand wing with plenty of joy to break for 4-2 in the second set, ending the 20-year-old's astonishing hold count for the tournament at 68 games.

Shelton's chances seemingly evaporated when Paul opened up a 4-3 break scoreboard. However, you don't build a singles 65-10 record in college tennis without plenty of guile.

Shelton dug in deep in the third set to prolong the match (Getty Images)

The 20-year-old connected with cannonball serves and found his spots to snatch away the third set, curling his ear to the crowd to raise the noise.

Paul reasserted himself, controlling the points for an instant break, an advantage he grasped right until the post-match roar of "Let's goooo."

Key stats

It was guaranteed that an American man would feature in the last four in Melbourne for the first time since Andy Roddick in 2009.

MORE: Paul v Shelton match statistics

The Australian Open continues to be Paul's most successful major, now holding a 9-3 win-loss record in comparison with 3-1 at Wimbledon, 2-4 at Roland-Garros and 2-5 on home soil at the US Open.

What this means for Paul 

Paul's mum flew over in time for the match, his girlfriend's birthday is tomorrow … it was a pretty special Wednesday for Team Paul.

"This is my first time on this court, my first time in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, Ben's first time out of the States, I think he had a pretty good trip as well," stated Paul.

"I was doing a couple of interviews, they were asking how it felt to be in the quarterfinals and I said, 'Semifinals sounds a little better.' Pumped to be there and excited for whoever I play.

"Making it to the second week of a Slam, that's everyone's dream when they start to play tennis. I can't believe I'm here right now. 

"I'm so happy to get through that match, Ben is such a tough player to play against, he's going to be in many more matches like this. Everyone should be really excited for that kid."

The 25-year-old will shoot for the final in a first meeting against nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, or he'll try to overturn a 1-4 record facing fifth seed Andrey Rublev. 

What's next for Shelton?

Shelton is set to crack the top 50 when rankings are announced post Australian Open.

That's one meteoritic rise. 

Paul was full of praise for his beaten compatriot (Getty Images)

It will be fascinating to see how the Stars and Stripes youngster fares on home courts during the 'Sunshine Swing' of Indian Wells and Miami. If Melbourne is anything to go by, Shelton is set for a special season.