Unseeded Ben Shelton has achieved a new career milestone; the Georgia native earned a hard-fought three-set victory over compatriot Marcos Giron to become a first-time ATP finalist on Saturday in Tokyo.
World No. 19 Ben Shelton produced an outstanding comeback, rallying past qualifier Marcos Giron – beat Casper Ruud and Felix Auger-Aliassime on his way to the last four – 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-4 after two hours and 50 minutes to reach his first final at tour level at the ATP 500 event, the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships held in Tokyo.
In his on-court interview, the young rising star commented: “It’s a huge achievement for me and my team, especially the way the match panned out today. Definitely, one of the toughest matches I’ve played in my life.”
“Marcos was waxing me from the baseline in almost every rally, and I had to completely change my game to even have a chance against him.
“To be able to get through that match, to not only figure some things out but get a win and be going into my first ATP final, the win couldn’t be sweeter,” remarked the Atlanta-born.
Giron, 30, made a bright start, earning seven points in a row to steal the opening set 7-6(2).
Shelton recovered from a double breakdown to even the contest at one set apiece by wrapping up the second set 7-6(5).
The all-American duel saw the Australian Open quarterfinalist overpower the World No. 79 in the decider, in which he notched a crucial break in the seventh game, marching to take the set 6-4 and the match.
Throughout the week, he won four encounters, three of them in three demanding sets.
Speaking about his fitness ahead of the final, Shelton outlined: “The legs are a little heavy today, but they’ll definitely be recovered by tomorrow, I’ll be ready to go. If nothing else, adrenaline will get me through the match.”
Overall, he lacked consistency behind his booming serve, winning 67 percent of the first serve points, while Giron won 77 percent.
However, Shelton maximized his chances, converting 4 of 8 breakpoint opportunities, compared to his rival 3 of 10.
The 21-year-old will face World No. 50 Aslan Karatsev in Sunday’s championship in the Ariake Coliseum.
The former leads the three-time ATP titlist 1-0 in their series, having met this season at the US Open, where the local favorite made a stunning run to the semifinals.
Meanwhile, Karatsev, who is yet to drop a set at the ATP 500 event, cruised past home hope, wild card Shintaro Mochizuki, 6-3, 6-4 in one hour and 34 minutes.
“Everybody came to support this young guy, it was something special to play here with the crowd full,” he asserted after the encounter.
“I tried to keep my game plan very simple, not pay too much attention to the crowd, and I managed to do it.”
En route to his fifth final on tour, he beat 2022 runner-up Frances Tiafoe, fourth seed Alex de Minaur, Chinese Zhang Zhizhen, and Mochizuki.
Last May, the 30-year-old displayed his best Masters 1000 performance to reach the semifinals at the Mutua Madrid Open from qualifying, shocking second seed Daniil Medvedev before falling into German Jan-Lennard Struff in three sets.
Karatsev, who took the tennis world by surprise in 2021, becoming the first man in the Open Era to advance to the Australian Open semifinals on his Grand Slam debut – also from qualifying, seems to have found back his rhythm through the Asian swing, moving through the last four in Zhuzai late in September, losing to Yoshihito Nishioka.
For his part, the Japanese player ranked No. 215 made an impressive run on home soil to reach his maiden ATP semifinal.
Moreover, the 20-year-old, who had no victories at tour level under his name, recorded three straight wins at the event, leaving behind top-seed Taylor Fritz, Argentine Tomas Martin Etcheverry, and in-form Australian Alexei Popyrin.