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Feature: Shelton and Son

Shelton and Son
October 9, 2023

"You always want your children to go further and do more than you did," Bryan Shelton smiled as he took time to discuss the rapid progress of his son, Ben, in the 21-year-old's first year on the ATP Tour. 

The most casual glance at the younger Shelton's record shows that Ben has indeed done that. 

Ranked world No.97 at the end of the 2022 season, the young American is now a top-20 player, with a quarterfinal Australian Open appearance and semifinal at the US Open book-ending a remarkable year at the Slams.  

It follows a path that Bryan had earlier taken on the ATP Tour, with a career spanning throughout the 1990s delivering multiple titles in singles and doubles, as well as a top-55 ranking in both disciplines. 

But Bryan Shelton was in fact referencing his son's education, ahead of his tennis, as he considered some parallel life milestones for both. 

"That came first, you had to do well in school in order to play sports," related Bryan, who became an esteemed coach of US college teams, including as head coach for the men's tennis team at the University of Florida for more than 10 years. 

"(My wife and I) just think that being well-rounded and getting a good education and meeting other people your own age and with different backgrounds that don't play tennis is really important. It builds those relationships so that you become a more complete person."

Ben built that foundation while honing his skills under Bryan's guidance as a member of the Florida Gators tennis team and only left the United States for the first time when the 2023 season began in Australia in January. He couldn't be happier to have followed his father's recommended course.

"He's definitely the biggest influence on me as a player and as a person as well," he commented at the Rolex Shanghai Masters this week. 

"He's the guy who kind of helped build my game from the ground up and, you know, he keeps me in check with my tennis but also, off the court with who I am, the things I say and how I treat people."
"So being able to have him out here on the road with me, it's been something that I've really enjoyed."

It's an equally happy experience for Shelton Snr, who has been delighted to revive memories of his own playing career. He has travelled with his son since mid-season, with a return to Wimbledon among the highlights of his year. 

"It was really, really special to share that with Ben and my wife came over, as well," Bryan related. 
"So, it's a pretty unique experience to be able to play there and then, to be back there with your son and see him experience it for the first time.

"But just in general, I love being out here. It's been so many years since I've been on tour."
Shelton Snr inevitably notices many changes, with the slick operations of the Rolex Shanghai Masters an example of the growing sophistication at many events. 

"It's just phenomenal," he said. "I see big improvements with certain things with facilities, with dining, with just all the players service areas - how professional everybody is and the job that they do to really put on a great event."

On the flip side, Bryan sees less of the spirit that enhanced his earlier time on tour.

"There was just a little bit more camaraderie," he said. "We were all in there playing cards together and going to dinners together. It's like it seems like there's a little bit more people stay in their own lanes."

As he celebrated his son's 21st birthday at Qi Zhong Stadium on Monday, there seemed every possibility of the Sheltons bringing those good vibes back. "I told Ben we need a need to change some things around here, get people really kind of interacting again," he smiled. 

For the father and son duo, an easy fellowship is clearly already strong. Told what Ben had revealed as Bryan's worst quality ("He's never wrong," Ben chuckled), Bryan delivered a hearty laugh. 

"We are pretty competitive, I will say that!" he responded. "He likes to prove me wrong and certainly does every once in a while."

But alongside any good-natured banter, there's also an undeniable pride. "His mom and I, we always say, the most important thing is this character, you know, and how he behaves and his attitude and just how he treats people," said Shelton.

"We always talk about the golden rule, to treat people the way you want to be treated - so those are the things that we're most proud of when we see him doing those things well."
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