Ben Shelton's breakthrough season hit new heights on Sunday at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships, where he defeated Aslan Karatsev 7-5, 6-1 to win his first ATP Tour title.
The American rallied from a set and 2-5 down to come through his semi-final match against Marcos Giron and he used that momentum in the final in Tokyo, where he consistently took the ball early on return to rush Karatsev, triumphing after 84 minutes.
“That meant a lot to me and my team,” Shelton said. “We have been working really hard since the beginning to build my game and win titles on the ATP Tour. I made some deep runs lately. You see the great champions, they finish weeks off. They win titles, they don't just get to finals. They are able to maintain their level throughout the week. I am not saying I am anywhere there yet, but to be able to do it for one week, put together five matches in a row in Tokyo is really special.”
The American is the sixth first-time tour-level winner of the season and the first player since Lorenzo Musetti in Hamburg in 2022 to win their maiden ATP Tour title at a 500 event. He will rise to a career-high No. 15 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday, having started the season at No. 96.
“I am really looking forward to this tail-end stretch of the year,” said Shelton, who is third in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah. “I think it is a great opportunity for me. Earlier in the season I was losing early in weeks, so my match count is not that high, so I am feeling fresh. I am looking forward to finishing the season strong.”
Shelton played with freedom against Karatsev in his maiden tour-level title match. The 21-year-old struck 18 winners and caused Karatsev problems with his swinging lefty serve, winning 80 per cent (32/40) of points behind his first delivery.
He now leads Karatsev 2-0 in the pair's Lexus ATP Head2Head series, while he is the second consecutive American to triumph in Tokyo after Taylor Fritz won the crown in 2022.
Earlier this season, Shelton advanced to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, before he reached the semi-finals at the US Open, becoming the youngest American man to advance to the last four in New York since Michael Chang in 1992. He now owns a standout 14-2 record in his past 16 matches, having also reached the quarter-finals in Shanghai last week.
Karatsev was chasing his fourth tour-level title and first since he beat Andy Murray in Sydney in 2022. The 30-year-old used his forehand to great effect in the first set, but struggled to find consistency from the baseline as the match went on, committing 20 unforced errors.
Did You Know?
Shelton is the youngest Tokyo champion since Lleyton Hewitt, 20, in 2001. He joins father Bryan Shelton as an ATP Tour titlist, becoming the fourth father-son duo to win tour-level singles titles in the Open Era (since 1968).