Ben Shelton, in his full season on the ATP tour, has now found his game. He can simply overpower most players he faces, and while he still needs to learn to use a bit more touch, his forehand pace and placement are simply something more and more players struggle with. In the final of the Japan Open, his opponent, Aslan Karatsev, never had a chance as Ben Shelton was playing at a level Karatsev couldn’t reach. Shelton won 7-5 6-1.
The first set was tight and Shelton was behind 4-5 but still on serve. From that point on, he put the match away by winning none of the next 10 games. Many of the points Shelton took were through a dominant forehand that Karatsev either could not chase down or could not do anything with once he did reach the ball.
Shelton finished with 18 winners against just 12 unforced errors. 12 of his winners came off his forehand. Karatsev, a former top-15 player, had just 9 winners but 20 unforced errors. Again, many of those unforced errors were simply set up by shots Ben Shelton was making. Karatsev seemed to know midway through the second set, which Shelton took 6-1, that he had no chance to win.
Ben Shelton wins the Japan Open and wins his first ATP title
That said, Karatsev did himself no favors by not serving overly well. He had 2 aces but he had 4 double faults. Those are statistics that no player wants, of course. Ben Shelton has an excellent serve, but he didn’t need to be perfect with it to take the match. He had just 3 aces, though he did win 32 of his 40 first serves.
Shelton basically let his massive forehand win the match. While Shelton did have three tough three-set matches leading up to the Japan Open final, he made the final look easy.
Now Shelton is projected to move up to No. 14 in the latest ATP rankings when they are released on Monday. Again, this is Ben Shelton’s first full year on the tour. The 21-year-old reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the semis at the US Open and now has won his first tournament. 2024 could be a special year for the American.