Ben Shalton cracks top-50 faster than Rafael Nadal. Find out how

Ben Shelton needed only five ATP tournaments to find himself in the elite group

by Jovica Ilic
Ben Shalton cracks top-50 faster than Rafael Nadal. Find out how

The defending Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal trained with fellow left-hander Ben Shelton ahead of the season's first Major. Only a few could guess that the young American would have a better run than the Spaniard, in fact, a much better one!

Nadal experienced a left hip injury in the second round against Mackenzie McDonald and lost in straight sets, not playing well even before the setback. On the other hand, the defending NCAA champion cracked the last eight and competed in his first Major quarter-final.

With those points, Ben will reach the top-50 on Monday, standing as the youngest American in the mentioned group. Shelton needed five ATP tournaments to enter the top-50, while Nadal played eight events to find himself there.

However, their journeys could not have been more different. Nadal barely played junior tournaments, reaching the Wimbledon semi-final in 2002 and setting his eyes on professional duties.

Ben Shelton will enter the top-50 on Monday following the Australian Open QF.

Rafa made an ATP debut at home in Mallorca in April 2002 and scored an ATP win still at 15.

An incredible youngster claimed six (!!) Futures titles that year and raised his level at the start of 2003 to advance into four Challenger finals in the opening three months. The 16-year-old reached the third round on his Masters 1000 debut in Monte Carlo and repeated that in Hamburg and Wimbledon.

Not stopping there, Nadal earned six wins in Bastad, Stuttgart and Umag and cracked the top-50 following the Segovia Challenger title at 17 years and two months. At that age, Shelton was still a junior, embracing numerous USTA junior events and never leaving the USA.

Ben started his college career at Florida Gators in 2020, working under his dad Bryan. Shelton was 28-5 in his freshman season, becoming the squad leader and targeting the ultimate prize in 2022. A teenager became the NCAA singles champion last May and reached the third round at the Cincinnati Masters a few months later.

Shelton decided to turn pro and test his skills against the top-100 rivals. November was Ben's month, dominating with his booming serve and sharp groundstrokes and clinching three consecutive Challenger crowns in Charlottesville, Knoxville and Champaign.

The young gun cracked the top-100 and was ready to make his first trip outside the USA. Ben turned it into an advantageous ride in Australia, playing at the same place where his parents met in 1993. Shelton saved a match point in the opening round and ousted Nicolas Jarry in the second to make a name for himself.

Not stopping there, Ben toppled Alexei Popyrin and J.J Wolf to advance into his first Major quarter-final. Thus, he became the youngest American to achieve that since Andy Roddick at Wimbledon 2003. Shelton fell to fellow American Tommy Paul in four sets, failing to reach the semi-final but earning enough points to crack the top-50 after only five ATP tournaments.

Rafael Nadal Ben Shelton