Tommy Paul was a star in the juniors and is making good on that promise in the pros, using a 7-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over his US compatriot Ben Shelton at the Australian Open to reach his first grand slam semi-final in his 14th appearance at a major.
“Every junior to pro has a different path … Mine has been, like, the slowest,” Paul said, mentioning a group of Americans he grew up with: Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe and Reilly Opelka. “I like to think the last four years of my career has just been like steady steps moving up. I mean, that’s what it’s felt like. I feel like hopefully 2023 is the year where I really make a big jump.”
As a bonus, Paul’s mother was in the crowd for the biggest victory of his career. She booked a flight after he won his fourth-round match, then went straight from work to the airport to make the long journey from the US.
“She’s done a lot for me, from when I was really young until now. She’s sacrificed a ton to get me here,” Paul, who was the world No 35 coming into the tournament, said. “She deserves to be here and deserves to see me win big matches.”
Paul’s next opponent will be Novak Djokovic, who overwhelmed Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.
Djokovic said he would be wary of Paul’s ability in their semi-final.
“I know how [Paul] plays … He’s been around for a few years. I watched him play quite a bit, especially during this tournament. He’s been playing probably tennis of his life,” Djokovic said after his victory over Rublev. “Very explosive, very dynamic player.”
Paul initially broke through as a teenager, taking the 2015 junior title at the French Open. Since turning professional, he has claimed one tour-level trophy, at Stockholm in 2021, and, until this week, had made it as far as the fourth round at just one grand slam tournament – at Wimbledon a year ago.
Now Paul is the first man from his country to make it to the final four at Melbourne Park since Andy Roddick in 2009. Roddick was also the last man from the US to win a grand slam singles title, at the US Open 20 years ago.
Based purely on ranking, Paul offered a much sterner test than anyone Shelton had faced in Australia: His prior opponents were ranked 67th, 96th, 113th and 154th. Paul, meanwhile, took out two seeds: No 24 Roberto Bautista Agut and No 30 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
This matchup was the first grand slam quarter-final between two American men since 2007, when Roddick beat Mardy Fish in Melbourne. Paul was more steady than spectacular, limiting his miscues with compact swings off both wings.
“Extremely solid from the baseline,” Shelton said. “He did a great job moving me around the court, keeping me off balance.”
They shared a light moment when Paul’s coach, Brad Stine, told him to look for a serve down the middle. Shelton noticed the exchange and kicked his serve wide, leaving Paul out of position and with no chance at reaching the ace. Both players smiled.
Shelton broke twice late in the third to steal the set and yelled in triumph. But he started the next set poorly, double-faulting twice in a row and then missing a backhand to gift-wrap a break for Paul.
Soon enough, it was Paul letting out a scream of delight after the last point, then meeting Shelton at the net for a warm hug.