Ben Shelton set to claim huge rankings prize after winning first clay court title in Houston

Kevin Palmer
Ben Shelton lifts trophy in Houston
Ben Shelton lifts trophy in Houston

Ben Shelton’s power-packed game does not appear to be suited to clay courts, but he proved he can be a threat by lifting his first title on the surface in Houston.

The 21-year-old American is now on the brink of becoming the new American No 1 after he beat compatriot and defending champion Frances Tiafoe 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to win on home soil.

Shelton’s father Bryan won the same Houston tournament in 1992 and young Ben admitted he was delighted to put the family name on the roll of honour once again in what was a special moment.

Bryan was looking on as his boy lifted the silverware, with his coaching input clearly having a positive impact as his son found a way to adapt his game to a surface he would not have played too much tennis on in his youth.

Using his huge serve and aggressive all-court game to get the better of Tiafoe, Shelton is now up to a career-high of No 14 in the updated ATP Rankings, a new career high.

Shelton used his post-match interview to pay a glowing tribute to Tiafoe, who he confirmed is one of his great heroes in tennis.

“You’ve been such an inspiration to kids, people of colour in our sport, just an amazing representation,” Shelton said.

“You’ve been that guy to always put on for us and always be selfless, thinking about others, kids younger than you.

“So thanks for everything that you do for our sport and people who look like you and me.

“I know this one stings, sorry you didn’t go back-to-back titles, but you’re that type of player who can go back to back.”

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The always jovial Tiafoe had a glint in his eye when he admitted he was not impressed with is young rival’s impressive rise.

“Screw you Ben,” said Tiafoe with a smile, as he congratulated Shelton and thanked his team for their efforts supporting him in Houston.

Enticingly, Shelton is now just one place behind American No 1 Taylor Fritz and the title of American No 1 will now change hands later this month.

Fritz was defending 360 points from his run to the Monte-Carlo Masters tournament a year ago, but those points will now drop off his record after he lost 6-4, 6-4 against Italy’s Lorenzo Musetti in the first round of his year’s event on Sunday.

Shelton’s coronation of the new American No 1 will see him joining a long list of icons who have held the title, including tennis greats such as John McEnroe, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras.

Fritz has been the top-ranked American since April 2021, but Shelton will now carry that mantle as he heads to Europe for the clay court season.

Shelton and Tiafoe opted against playing in the Monte-Carlo Masters event as they preferred to stay on home soil and play in Houston.

That proved to be a shrewd move as the duo picked up solid ranking points in the ATP 250 event and got plenty of practice on the surface.

Shelton and Tiafoe are due to make their first appearance on European clay courts at the Madrid Open later this month, with the duo ramping up their game on the red dirt ahead of the French Open.