Paul conquers all-American quarters, faces Djokovic next
MELBOURNE, Jan 25: Tommy Paul received a lot less attention than his younger, less-experienced, opponent, Ben Shelton, heading into their all-American quarter-final at the Australian Open.
Perhaps that was a product of the fascination with the out-of-nowhere Shelton: Just 20, and less than a year after winning an NCAA title for the University of Florida, he was travelling outside of the United States for the first time and participating in his second Grand Slam tournament.
So the loud shouts heard most often emanating from the Rod Laver Arena stands on Wednesday, under the sun that carried the temperature to 30 degrees Celsius, were for one of the pair: “Let’s go, Benny! Let’s go!” or “Benny, Benny, Benny! Oi, Oi, Oi!” or “Go, Gators!”
“He had a pretty good trip,” Paul noted.
Paul’s story is a pretty good one, too, and it is the one that will keep going at Melbourne Park: The 25-year-old was a star in the juniors and now is making good on that promise in the pros, using a 7-6 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Shelton to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final in his 14th appearance at a major.
“Every junior to pro has a different path. … Mine has been, like, the slowest,” the 35th-ranked Paul said, mentioning a group of Americans he grew up with: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Reilly Opelka. “I like to think the last four years of my career has just been like steady steps moving up. I mean, that’s what it’s felt like. I feel like hopefully 2023 is the year where I really make a big jump.”
Paul’s next opponent will be 21-time Grand Slam singles champion Novak Djokovic, who overwhelmed No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. After dealing with a worrisome left hamstring in his first two matches, Djokovic has been on quite a roll: He’s won his past 11 sets and dropped a total of 27 games in that span as he chases a 10th championship in Melbourne — “something that sends a message,” he said, “to all my opponents remaining in the draw.”
The other men’s semi-final on Friday is Stefanos Tsitsipas against Karen Khachanov.
After dropping Rublev’s record in major quarter-finals to 0-7 and extending his own winning streak at the Australian Open to 26 matches, equaling Andre Agassi for the longest run there in the Open era, Djokovic looked ahead to facing Paul for the first time.
“I know how he plays. … He’s been around for a few years. I watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He’s been playing probably tennis of his life,” Djokovic said. “Very explosive, very dynamic player.”
Paul initially broke through as a teenager, taking the 2015 junior title at the French Open (beating Fritz) and getting to the final at Flushing Meadows that year, too (losing to Fritz). Since turning professional, he has claimed one tour-level trophy, at Stockholm in 2021, and, until this week, had made it as far as the fourth round at just one Grand Slam tournament — at Wimbledon a year ago.
Now Paul is the first man from his country to make it to the final four at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2009. Roddick was also the last man from the US to win a Grand Slam singles championship, at the US Open 20 years ago.
The women’s semi-finals on Friday will be Victoria Azarenka vs. Elena Rybakina, and Aryna Sabalenka vs. Magda Linette.
Sabalenka improved to 9-0 in 2023 without dropping a set yet by saving 12 of 14 break points while beating Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2. Linette never got past the third round in 29 other Grand Slam tournaments — and exited in the first round at 17 of those — but is still around after a 6-3, 7-5 win over two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova. (AP)
Comments are closed.