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Four Americans - Korda, Shelton, Paul and Wolf - Reach Round of 16 in Australia

By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday January 21, 2023

Call them the Unusual Suspects.

The American men have placed four players in the round of 16 at the 2023 Australian Open, and they aren’t the names you’d typically expect. Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, John Isner—they are all out.

Tennis Express

This time the spotlight is shared by a group of young and quickly rising players that have been under the radar at times—Ben Shelton, Tommy Paul, JJ Wolf and Sebastian Korda.

Under the radar, perhaps, but they will go down as the first American quartet to reach the round of 16 at the Same Australian Open since 2004, when James Blake, Roddick, Andre Agassi and Robby Ginepri all reached the last 16 in Melbourne.

Of the four, 22-year-old Korda has garnered the most attention, his incredibly smooth baseline game, and immense power has drawn rave reviews since he hit the tour, and so has his pedigree. The brother of two professional golfers, sisters Jessica and Nelly, and the son of two tennis pros, father Petr, a former Australian Open champion and mother Regina, a former World 26.

Oh, and there’s that fairly well-documented relationship with Andre Agassi…

But Korda wasn’t expected to be in the second week by many, especially when he drew a third-round encounter with 2022 runner-up Daniil Medvedev.

The other three are even less heralded. There is Shelton the 20-year-old southpaw who had never played a match outside of the United States until making the trek to Australia this month. Here he is, sitting pretty in the round of 16 after knocking off Alexei Popyrin on Day 6.

Shelton, the son of former ATP world No. 55 Bryan Shelton, is playing in his second major.

In his AO debut, Shelton got a taste of the passion from the home crowd: Some fans booed him as he stepped out to face Aussie Alexei Popyrin. 

Happiness is hostility for Shelton, who had fun with the trash talk from fans cupping his hand to his ear in a "let's hear it" gesture.

Afterward, Shelton said though he's never been booed before but actually felt fired up by the crowd and was buzzed by the atmosphere.

"They kind of set the tone when I walked out on the court, and I got booed," Shelton said with a laugh. "First time at a pro match that that's happened. I mean, it was unreal. I can always respect a whole country getting behind their guy, so it was really cool to see.

"Similar to some away matches and college atmospheres that I have been at, but definitely amplified today. The sound in there kind of just vibrates."

Shelton has a degree in facing rowdy crowds.

Ben Shelton won the 2022 NCAA singles crown for the Florida Gators and drew from his college experience to draw the fun and fuel from fans crammed into John Cain Arena.

"It was a fun match to be a part of," Ben Shelton said. "There was definitely a few Aussie guys screaming for me in the crowd, and I don't think the rest of the Aussies in the crowd liked that too much...

"Honestly, when the whole crowd is for you, you feel this expectation that you have to deliver. When you miss a shot they're, like, Oh, and maybe you feel like you're letting them down a little bit.

"I find it easy to play free when the crowd is coming at you and being aggressive. I enjoy that hostile atmosphere."

Then there is Wolf, a hard-hitting talent that has been on the scene for a while, but is only playing in his third Grand Slam main draw. Wolf blasted past compatriot Michael Mmoh 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 on Day 6, and will face Shelton for a spot in the quarterfinals.

A former all American at Ohio State, Wolf is fond of sleeveless shirts and stinging shots. Wolf is an explosive, aggressive player who can attack from both wings. The 6' Wolf is not as tall as the 6'4" Shelton, but bothare shotmakers who have shown the guts to go for it during their Melbourne breakthrough runs.

The Wolf vs. Shelton match is a clash of former college standouts who both have bright pro futures. Wolf is currently ranked No. 67 and Shelton will soar above his current ranking of No. 89.

The winner of the Wolf vs. Shelton clash will face either compatriot Tommy Paul or Roberto Bautista Agut, who ended Andy Murray's inspired run.

Last but not least there is Tommy Paul.

The athletically gifted 25-year-old Paul has steadily been moving up the ranks in recent years, and reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year, his best performance at a major to date. Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst John McEnroe has picked Paul to reach the semifinals in Melbourne.

The performance of this unlikely quartet is a testament to the depth of talent on the men’s side in America at the moment. The rising tide is lifting all boats, and we should expect, when Fritz and Tiafoe rejoin the movement at the year’s final three Slams, that more good things happen.