Shelton To Face Karatsev In Maiden ATP Tour Final In Tokyo

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Ben Shelton's first full season on the ATP Tour hit new highs Saturday in Tokyo, where the #NextGenATP American defeated countryman Marcos Giron to reach the final at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Championships.

The 21-year-old Shelton prevailed 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-4 in a two-hour, 50-minute semi-final clash inside Ariake Coliseum to reach his maiden tour-level championship match. He kept his cool after dropping the first set, converting four of eight break points he earned to set a final meeting on Sunday with Aslan Karatsev.

“It's a huge achievement for me and my team, especially the way the match panned out today,” said Shelton. “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.”

Shelton reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and the semi-finals at the US Open this year, but until Saturday he was the highest player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings not to have reached an ATP Tour final. He set that record straight by clinching a decisive break in the seventh game of the deciding set against Giron to seal his third three-set victory of the week in Japan.

“The legs are a little heavy today, but they'll definitely be recovered by tomorrow, I'll be ready to go,” said Shelton when asked how he was holding up physically. “I think if nothing else, adrenaline will get me through the match.”

Following Shelton and Giron on to court were Karatsev and home wild card Shintaro Mochizuki, whose dream run to the semi-finals has kept the Tokyo crowds in raptures this week. The #NextGenATP Japanese was unable to ride his momentum any further, however, as Karatsev triumphed 6-3, 6-4 to reach the championship match without having dropped a set across his four matches.

“Everybody came to support this young guy, it was something special to play here with the crowd full,” said Karatsev after his 94-minute win. “I tried to keep my game plan very simple, not pay too much attention to the crowd, and I managed to do it.”

With his win, Karatsev advanced to his fifth tour-level final, and his first since Sydney in January 2022 (d. Murray). The World No. 50 seeks his fourth ATP Tour crown when he faces Shelton, against whom he fell to a four-set defeat in the pair's only previous Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting at the US Open in September.

Despite defeat, Mochizuki can look back on a breakthrough week in his homeland. The 20-year-old had not won a tour-level match prior to this week but has risen 84 spots to No. 131 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings as a result of his run. The 20-year-old has also propelled himself into contention for Next Gen ATP Finals qualification — he has risen 14 spots to 15th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah this week.

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