Tommy Paul of the US celebrates after victory against Ben Shelton
Melbourne (AFP) - Tommy Paul was inspired by having his mum courtside after she made a late dash from the United States to see him beat fellow American Ben Shelton and make a maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the Australian Open Wednesday.
Paul used his greater experience to grind down 20-year-old Shelton 7-6 (8⁄6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in a battle of attrition between two unseeded players on Rod Laver Arena.
Paul is the first American man into the last four of the Australian Open since Andy Roddick in 2009, with his mother arriving just in time to witness the feat after a hasty decision to make the trip.
“She’s done a lot for me, I mean, from when I was really young until now. She’s sacrificed a ton to get me here. She deserves to be here and deserves to see me win big matches,” the 25-year-old said.
“I was really excited to see her and have her here. I saw her before the match. She came to the hotel right before I left for the courts to come warm up.”
Victory put the 25-year-old into his first major semi-final on the 14th attempt, with the world number 35’s previous best at Wimbledon last year when he reached the fourth round.
He still had far more experience than Shelton, who was at only his second major and, remarkably, on his first trip overseas.
Paul leaned on that advantage and his returning prowess to disarm the left-hander’s biggest weapons – his serve and his forehand.
“Making it to the second week of a Slam is everyone’s dream when they play tennis. Can’t believe I’m here right now,” Paul said.
“It wasn’t like the prettiest match ever today, but it was how I needed to play the match.
“He’s a great server. I had to just put in as many returns as I could. But I’m really excited, man. It’s really cool.”
In the biggest match of both players’ careers, and their first against each other, the 89th-ranked Shelton opened with a decisive serve to love.
He saved a break point on his next service game but the chances were limited in a tight baseline battle, with only the occasional foray to the net.
- Great experience -
It went to a tiebreak, where a netted backhand from Shelton gave Paul set point and the same shot handed him the set in 56 gruelling minutes.
Paul worked only the second break point of the match at 2-1 in the next set, but Shelton again clung on and then forced Paul to save two against him in the following game.
Unforced errors began to creep in to Shelton’s game as the pressure mounted and, when Shelton flayed a forehand wide from the baseline, Paul got the crucial break for a 4-2 lead and kept his composure to take the set with an ace.
Shelton fended off four break points at 1-1 in the third set as Paul went in for the kill, but his consistent countryman kept coming and finally forced the breakthrough for 4-3.
Undeterred, Shelton immediately got the set back on an even keel next game and stunned Paul with some power hitting to break again and take the match to a fourth set.
But the effort seemed to sap his energy and Paul romped to victory.
“I think it was a great experience. It was fun to be out there,” said Shelton.
“I thought I played all right. Some things that I could do better … but I’m pleased with the result, this being my first time at the Australian Open.”