Melbourne: A silky-smooth showing from Tommy Paul launched the American into dreamland on Rod Laver Arena, with his maiden Grand Slam semifinal, the priceless reward.
The world No.35 halted the sensational breakout Australian Open from compatriot Ben Shelton 7-6(6) 6-3 5-7 6-4 on Wednesday to toast an “exciting crop” of American youngsters lighting up the sport.
Despite the massive prize on offer, both players avoided tentative, passive play and went onto court to dictate.
They were striking cleanly, combining power and finesse to illustrate how they got this far at Melbourne Park.
At 3-3, Shelton’s quarterback shoulders hooked a wonderous inside-out forehand winner. The next point, Paul leapt left and in mid-flight carved a backhand volley, which was followed by Shelton’s deft pick-up. This American duo were putting on some show.
The crowd rallied behind the youngster with chants of “Ben, Ben, Ben, oi, oi, oi” as well as “Let’s go Benny, let’s go,” into a college tennis throwback of “Go Gators.”
The 2022 NCAA singles champion obliged to force a tiebreak. However, Paul pulled clear, soaking up the Shelton aggression, his exceptional timing making difficult shots look effortless.
Paul, previously chalking up a Grand Slam best fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon 2022, targeted the Shelton backhand wing with plenty of joy to break for 4-2 in the second set, ending the 20-year-old’s astonishing hold count for the tournament at 68 games.
Shelton’s chances seemingly evaporated when Paul opened up a 4-3 break scoreboard. However, you don’t build a singles 65-10 record in college tennis without plenty of guile.
The 20-year-old connected with cannonball serves and found his spots to snatch away the third set, curling his ear to the crowd to raise the noise.
Paul reasserted himself, controlling the points for an instant break, an advantage he grasped right until the post-match roar of “Let’s goooo.”
The 25-year-old will shoot for the final in a first meeting against nine-time champion Novak Djokovic, or he’ll try to overturn a 1-4 record facing fifth seed Andrey Rublev.