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New Kid on the Block: Ben Shelton Emerges as the Most Impressive Black Talent in Tennis Since MaliVai and Tiafoe

The 20-year-old hard-hitting leftie is one of the three Americans who made it to the last 8 of the Australian Open. The last time this happened was in 2000 when Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Chris Woodruff reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. 

Shelton overcame the home advantage at the 18,000-strong John Cain Arena to beat the in-form Australian Popyrin in straight sets 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 in the third round. Popyrin was coming off an impressive win against the world 8. Seed Taylor Fritz.

Shelton reached a career all-time high ranking of 89 and he will be closing in on a top 50 slot with an impressive run Down Under.

In a game where the William sisters have dominated for well over a decade, with a combined tally of a whopping 30 Grand Slams between them, only two Black Americans (Arthur Ashe and James Blake) have ever made it to the Top 10 of the ATP rankings since the rankings were introduced some 50 years ago. Tiafoe is currently the highest ranked Black player in the world at number 17. MaliVai Washington, who reached his best ranking of world no 11, reached the finals of the Wimbledon in 1996, and came second best on the day.

Shelton’s father, Bryan, played tennis professionally on the ATP tour with two titles, a career high ranking of world no. 55, and reaching the Mixed Doubles Finals at the French Open. Shelton is in good hands, as his father is now considered one of the best professional coaches in the country. 

Shelton, who is the reigning NCAA singles champion from the University of Florida, was playing professionally outside of the U.S for the first time in his life.

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Written by Aliyah Collins