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Living Vicariously: Bryan Shelton’s Story

Isaac Tiomkin

Bryan Shelton playing at the 1994 Wimbledon Championships.

The English summer sun was lukewarm, yet the air was still thick and hot. It was July 1989, and the entire tennis world now revolved around one spot. The grass was cut perfectly, just as it had been for the past century. Class and prestige emanated from every crevice in the court. A 22-year-old Bryan Shelton stood upon a pristine grass court in Wimbledon. He had turned pro just a few months prior and now stood at the grandest stage in the world; across from him was Boris Becker, the youngest Wimbledon champion ever. People crowded the stands, eager to watch Becker dominate the young American. Unfortunately for Shelton, the crowd got exactly what they wanted. After two and a half hours and three sets, Becker left with a place in the next round, and Shelton left with a ticket back to the USA.

Bryan Shelton continued to have an admirable career, falling just short of the tennis player’s ultimate dream: the top ten. Although for many this could be where they cut ties with the sport, Bryan’s passion denied him that release. He began his second career as a tennis coach in 1999, just over a year after retiring from professional tennis. He coached the Georgia Tech women’s team and, in 2007, even mentored them to a national championship. As time went on, Bryan turned his focus from his own career to the future of the Shelton name: his son, Ben Shelton. From the beginning of his son’s tennis journey, Bryan knew that Ben was different. A kid normally needs to be pushed to achieve success, but Ben himself was a furnace, roaring with motivation and competitive spirit. In 2022, Bryan told The New York Times that Ben has always been “just a different animal than I was." In fact, Bryan frequently had to control his son’s endless bounds of energy and talent.

Ben Shelton’s rise as a junior was unique to someone as athletically capable as him. Unlike many “tennis babies” of the world, he did not experience intense pressure to succeed. In fact, he only started taking tennis somewhat seriously in seventh grade, after he quit football. Unlike many prodigies, Ben never went overseas to compete as a junior, abstaining from any junior grand slams that tend to rocket younger players into the universe of stardom. Despite his lack of international tennis renown, he was still a phenomenal player and earned a spot on the roster at the University of Florida tennis team, where his father transferred to as a coach. Under the tutelage of Bryan, the team won the NCAA National Championship, and that was when the world began to see who this boy was becoming.

Bryan realized his vision of “The American Tennis Player” through his son. Bryan was able to set Ben on the path that he believed was best, but Ben is the one who sprints to the finish line, always pushing himself further. As of January 2023, Bryan became Ben’s full time coach on the ATP tour, highlighting his dedication to his son. The gauntlet has been lifted off of Bryan’s shoulders and placed upon the eager Ben’s. It is now his turn to carry the Shelton name.


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