The defending Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal faced a left-handed Jack Draper in the opening round. Rafa picked the young American Ben Shelton to train with him ahead of the tournament, hitting with the promising star at Margaret Court Arena and Rod Laver Arena.
Flying abroad for the first time in his career, Shelton was impressed by Nadal’s training regime, enjoying every minute of it and having a lot of fun. Nadal beat Draper in the first round before falling to Mackenzie McDonald in the second.
Mackenzie won 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, playing better than the Spaniard, who experienced a left hip injury in the second set’s closing stages. On the other hand, Shelton turned his campaign into a roller coaster ride, fending off a match point in the opening round and gaining confidence.
The 20-year-old took down Nicolas Jarry in three tight sets in the second round and faced Alexei Popyrin in the third.
Ben Shelton and Rafael Nadal shared the practice court in Melbourne.
Ben sealed the deal in straight sets to enter the last 16 and make a name for himself.
Not stopping there, the young gun defeated a fellow American J.J Wofl 6-7, 6-2, 6-7, 7-6, 6-2 in almost four hours to become the youngest American in a Major quarter-final since Andy Roddick in 2003! Shelton ended his run against another compatriot, Tommy Paul.
The more experienced player outplayed the 20-year-old and delivered a 7-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 triumph for his first Major semi-final. Ben fought well in sets one and three but could not force a decider after experiencing an early break in set number four.
“Rafa is always super focused. His ball bounces differently from the others and has an explosive effect. Training with Rafa is one of my most incredible experiences and one of the most fun ones. We first hit at Margaret Court Arena for an hour and moved to Rod Laver Arena.
Rafa is a good person, and you can realize that quickly. He trains even when he has a day off, which impresses me. It was nice to be so close to him. I had a chance to step on two large stadiums and train with one of the GOATs.
Seeing how Rafa moves, behaves and how the ball comes from his racquet was fun for my team and me,” Ben Shelton said.
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