FORMER Junior Grand Slam winner Tommy Paul is just two wins away from securing his maiden senior Grand slam title after ending the run of young compatriot Ben Shelton. The world number 35 needed four sets – and was shaky throughout the third and early stages of the fourth – before putting away the recent College tennis graduate, 7-6 6-3 5-7 6-4.
It is almost eight years since Paul won Roland Garros as a junior, and the now 25-year-old is about to face one of the toughest tasks in world tennis – Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. Paul will have to defy all odds, and in fact do something that no one has ever accomplished, which is defeat Djokovic in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
Djokovic is 9-0 from Australian Open semi-finals, going on to win all nine titles, and is on the verge of not only an incredible 10th title at Melbourne Park, but an all-time record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title. Paul was not thinking about the immediate task post-match, instead basking in the flory of reaching his first ever semi-final.
“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,” Paul said post-match.
“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 match lasted three hours and six minutes, with Paul weathering 24 aces off Shelton’s racquet, while serving seven of his own. He won 53 per cent of points off his younger opponent’s second serve, and hit seven aces himself among 43 winners. The difference between the players came in the unforced error count, with Paul only hitting 26, compared to Shelton’s 50.
Though often unable to capitalise on break point opportunities – successful with just three of 15 – Paul’s last break sealed the match. He will need to improve on that if he is to cause one of the biggest upsets in world tennis. Paul takes on Djokovic tomorrow.