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Shelton, Paul set up improbable all-American quarterfinal

  • Ravi Ubha

Ben Shelton's life-changing road trip continues – and so does the success of the US men at Australian Open 2023.

MORE: All the scores from Day 8 at AO 2023

When Shelton beat countryman J.J. Wolf in five sets and Tommy Paul overcame Roberto Bautista Agut in four on Monday, it ensured three Americans reached the quarterfinals for the first time at the year's opening Grand Slam since 2000.

Back then, the trio of names included luminaries Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, who won the title. 

It wasn't that duo's first time into the last eight of a major, dissimilar to Shelton, Paul and Sebastian Korda – who won his fourth-round match on Sunday in a fifth-set tiebreak over Hubert Hurkacz

The US might just be getting closer to ending its 20-year men's drought in Grand Slams, too. 

If it doesn't happen this weekend – there are the likes of Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas among others to contend with – the near future looks rosy. 

MORE: AO 2023 men's singles draw

Next Monday, 10 are set to feature inside the top 50 in the rankings. 

That includes Shelton, the 20-year-old making his Australian Open debut.

Shelton's first Australian Open has surpassed everyone's expectations, including his own (Getty Images)

From winning his first ATP and first top-10 match, playing at his first Grand Slam last August and cracking the top 100, the last seven months have proved to be a whirlwind for the left-hander. 

He also became the first American man under the age of 21 to make a Slam quarterfinal since Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2003. 

This trip to Australia and New Zealand marks a maiden voyage outside the US for the NCAA singles champion from the University of Florida. 

"Definitely a surprise," said Shelton, whose dad Bryan was a former pro and is the head coach at Florida. 

"I got on the plane with no expectations. I know that it's very hard to adjust to Australia from the United States just with the jet lag, time change and everything.

"It being my first time, never being out of the United States, I knew it would be a struggle. So I think it maybe has helped me a little bit, kind of not having that expectation or the feeling that I have to perform, but being able to just go out there, be myself and play free. 

"I think that's been a big contribution to my success."

On court, Shelton's serve remains a huge weapon. 

In his 6-7(5) 6-2 6-7(4) 7-6(4) 6-2 win over former Ohio State standout Wolf at John Cain Arena, the current No.89 wasn't broken and thumped 23 aces. 

"I think that fourth-set tiebreaker was really key for me," said the 67th-ranked Wolf, also competing in his first Australian Open. 

"I made some impulsive decisions, rushing to the net a couple times, a couple unforced errors.

"But Ben played a great match. Me not breaking in five sets, very unusual."

Shelton's 82 per cent first-serve points won maintained his joint spot atop the leaderboard in that category at AO 23. 

And to think it almost ended in the first round. Shelton saved a match point on serve against Zhang Zhizhen. 

A win for Paul – who beat compatriot Taylor Fritz in the 2015 French Open junior final – over Bautista Agut in Paris in November served as a boost ahead of Monday's clash at Margaret Court Arena. 

It was a first for the 25-year-old over the gritty Grand Slam semifinalist in four attempts. The previous three finished in straight sets. 

Bautista Agut had rallied from two sets down against another American, Brandon Holt, in the second round, before edging crowd favourite Andy Murray in four sets at a raucous MCA. 

The Spaniard couldn't maintain the momentum, though, as Paul triumphed 6-2 4-6 6-2 7-5 in three hours, 22 minutes. 

Paul slammed 11 aces and reset after initially leading by a set and break. 

"That was a physical, tough match," Paul said on court post-match. 

"Any time you play him it's going to be a war, so I was prepared for that match and thought I executed very well."

Paul regrouped after letting his early advantage slip against the Spaniard (Getty Images)

The Australian Open has certainly produced surprise semifinalists in the past. Shelton would likely be more of a shock than Paul – who narrowly missed a seeding – but for now is the first man to make the quarterfinals on his AO debut since Aslan Karatsev in 2021. 

Paul meets Shelton on Wednesday. 

"I'm real happy playing an American," said the chilled Paul. 

"There's going to be an American in the semifinals for sure, so I'm really excited for that."