Prior to their all-American Australian Open quarterfinal, Ben Shelton, the younger, less seasoned opponent, attracted far more attention than Tommy Paul did.
The obsession with the seemingly out-of-nowhere Shelton may have contributed to that. At the age of 20, less than a year after the University of Florida's NCAA championship victory, Shelton was competing in his second Grand Slam event while going abroad for the first time.
So, on Wednesday, when the temperature at Rod Laver Arena reached 87 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) due to the sun, one of the two received the loudest cheers of support: "Let's go, Benny! Let's move! similar to "Benny, Benny, Benny! Hey, Hey, Hey! either "Go, Gators!"
Paul observed, "He had a fairly excellent trip.
Paul's journey is also a positive one, and it will continue at Melbourne Park. The 25-year-old from New Jersey was a standout in the juniors and is now fulfilling that promise in the professionals. In his 14th major appearance, Paul defeated Shelton 7-6 (6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to advance to his first Grand Slam semifinal.
In addition, Paul's mother saw his greatest triumph of his career from the Rod Laver Arena bleachers. After he won his fourth-round match, according to him, Mom immediately went from her job to the airport to begin the lengthy trip from the US to Australia.
Everyone who begins playing tennis hopes to go to the second weekend of a Grand Slam, but Paul, ranked 35th, stated, "I can't believe I'm here right now."
His journey to this point was as follows: As a teenager, he made his breakthrough, winning the French Open junior championship in 2015 and reaching the final in Flushing Meadows as well. He has won one tour-level prize since being pro, at Stockholm in 2021, and, before this week, had only advanced as far as the fourth round of one Grand Slam competition, Wimbledon a year ago.
Since Andy Roddick in 2009, Paul became the first guy from his nation to get to Melbourne Park's last four. Additionally, 20 years ago at the US Open, Roddick became the last American to win a Grand Slam singles title.
The 21-time Grand Slam singles champion Novak Djokovic or Andrey Rublev will be Paul's following challenger. Stefanos Tsitsipas will face Karen Khachanov in the other semifinal matchup for men on Friday.
Victoria Azarenka will face Elena Rybakina in the women's semifinals on Thursday night (3:30 a.m. on Thursday EST), while Aryna Sabalenka will face Magda Linette.
With triumphs on Tuesday, Azarenka, the 33-year-old oldest woman remaining, and Rybakina, the 23-year-old youngest, progressed; Sabalenka and Linette won quarterfinals on Wednesday.
Sabalenka defeated Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2, saving 12 of her 14 break points to move to 9-0 in 2023 without losing a set. Despite never making it beyond the third round in 29 preceding Grand Slam competitions and having to withdraw in the first round at 17, Linette is still alive after defeating two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5.
Paul was a significantly tougher challenge than any opponent Shelton had played in Australia merely on the basis of ranking: His previous opponents were rated 67th, 96th, 113th, and 154th.
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who was ranked 30th, and Roberto Bautista Agut, who was ranked 24th, were both defeated by Paul.
Since Roddick defeated Mardy Fish in Melbourne in 2007, the last time two American men faced off in a singles quarterfinal at a Grand Slam tournament, Paul was normally satisfied to block back Shelton's large left-handed serves and do his best to outlast baseline back-and-forths.
Paul was consistent rather than sensational, keeping his errors to a minimum with short strokes from both wings.
Shelton spoke to Paul as a "wonderful buddy" and acknowledged that he had "almost took me under their wing" and "helped me through some of the early phases of a professional career" before to the bout.
When Paul's coach, Brad Stine, instructed him to search for a serve down the "T" on the Ad side of the court, they laughed together. Paul was out of position and had no chance of getting the ace since Shelton missed his serve after seeing the exchange. Both athletes grinned.
Paul broke to take the lead 4-3 in the third set after taking the first two, and he then served at 30-love. But he had a brief slip. He double-failed, missed a forehand, was pushed into an incorrect forehand, missed a second one, and was broken for the first time of the match.
Paul flew a backhand long, allowing Shelton to break again and capture that set. Shelton, the louder of the two players, shouted, "Yeah!" while raising his left fist and pointing with his right index finger to his ear as if to say to the audience, "Let me hear you!"
Shelton may have been more at ease after that since he began the fourth set badly by double-faulting twice in a row and then missing a backhand, which gave Paul an easy break and let him to swiftly go up 2-0.
After the last point, Paul screamed with joy, "Let's go!" before greeting Shelton with a hearty embrace at the net.