Tennis News: Ben Shelton is great American hope and Roger Federer's prime example

  • Shelton could change American fortunes
  • Federer's example for a young great
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Ben Shelton is set to become the highest-ranked American on the ATP tour next week. For someone who has only played full seasons of tennis for the last couple of years, Shelton's ranking rise is extremely impressive. But he has earned his way to near the top with a massive serve, good athleticism, and a growing knowledge of how to play points better.

Until recently, though, Shelton, like almost all Americans, had not shown he could be a danger on clay. His game should not really translate nearly as well to that surface as it might to the grass of Wimbledon. Clay slows the pace of Shelton's best shots and takes away his greatest power. To be successful on clay, Shelton will need to adapt.

For one tournament, at least. Shelton was able to do that. He won the clay-court Houston Open recently by defeating fellow American Frances Tiafoe. Before anyone gets too excited, though, the ATP 250 event did not exactly draw the biggest and best of clay-court specialists. Most of the better European players were preparing for the Monte-Carlo Masters which Shelton did not participate in.

Ben Shelton could succeed where other Americans do not and Carlos Alcaraz needs to be more like Roger Federer

But gaining the confidence from winning in Houston is only going to help Shelton in the future. For the American (or any American, really, because the group has not been at all successful in high-level clay-court tournaments in nearly two decades), it simply comes down to the belief he can win on clay. According to former Wimbledon doubles champion Frederik Løchte Nielsen, Shelton should begin thinking he can improve further on his career 6-7 record on clay. He was 2-7 entering the Houston Open.

Nielsen told the Vegas Insider, "...Ben Shelton seems much more capable of it, and he delivers a full effort in every match...I absolutely believe he can make a really good run in many tournaments – including Roland Garros. I also feel that he has to work hard for it because he still needs to get used to traveling a lot. He won the tournament in Houston, where it’s still American conditions with American balls, which are much faster."

One player already capable of winning on clay and reaching No. 1 on the ATP tour is Carlos Alcaraz. But the Spaniard could get even better if he improves certain parts of his game. Possibly becoming slightly less aggressive would help, but making his serve more of a weapon would also make him a better player. According to top tennis commentator Rennae Stubbs, Alcaraz needs to be a bit more like Roger Federer in that regard.

Speaking on her excellent program, Racquet's Rennae Stubbs Tennis Podcast, Stubbs comapred the size and ability of Alcaraz and Federer and pointed out that neither are extremely tall and that both could have the same leverage and ability to place their serve. Alcaraz simply has not developed that part of his game to come close to the Swiss great yet.

Stubbs said, "Carlos is not tall, neither was Roger Federer. Roger’s what, 6’1? He’s slightly taller than Carlos Alcaraz but very similar in height. But Roger was an amazing spot server...So when you’re talking about two guys of the same height, Roger and Carlos, Carlos’ spots are nowhere near as good...That is one area he can improve on and that’s how he’ll win more on a fast court."

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