Ben Shelton’s painful shoulder and slower serve speeds hurt during a French Open loss


PARIS (AP) — Ben Shelton compared himself to a Major League Baseball left-hander after a painful shoulder prevented him from playing his best in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 third-round loss to Felix Auger-Aliassime at the French Open that concluded on Saturday after being suspended a night earlier because of rain.

“Felix just played way too well today. Even if I didn’t have whatever I had going on, it would have been a tough one to get through, with the way he was playing,” said the 15th-seeded Shelton, a 21-year-old American who reached the U.S. Open semifinals and Australian Open quarterfinals last year.

“I just feel like a pitcher who’s thrown too many pitches, way over his pitch count,” he said. “A lot of rain delays. A lot of on and off. Everybody’s dealing with it, not just me.”

Shelton was down 5-4 in the opening set against No. 21 Auger-Aliassime at Court 14 on Friday night when play was suspended. The resumption of the match on Saturday shifted to Court Suzanne Lenglen, one of two arenas at Roland Garros with a retractable roof, allowing them to play even as showers plagued the clay-court tournament for the fifth day in a row.

“Playing a set last night with soaked balls, muddy balls, it kind of just, I guess, aggravated my shoulder a little bit,” Shelton said. “But I went out there and did what I could today and gave 100%.”

His defeat left two American men in the bracket: No. 12 Taylor Fritz and No. 14 Tommy Paul. Both were supposed to play their third-round matches on Saturday but neither had started as of the late afternoon because of rain.

It was clear during the restart of his match that Shelton was not able to produce his usual high-powered serves — even before his left shoulder was massaged by a trainer. Auger-Aliassime, a Canadian who got to the U.S. Open semifinals in 2021, claimed Saturday’s initial five games to close out the opening set and lead 4-0 in the next.

“I felt like my intentions were clear, and my execution was right, and I was able to do what I wanted to do,” Auger-Aliassime said, “and at the same time, get free points from his side and able to return his serve pretty well.”

Shelton, in his second full season on the pro tour after winning an NCAA championship at the University of Florida, had only one ace over the last two sets combined, while his top serve speed dropped significantly, going from 137 mph (221 kph) in the first set to 123 mph (199 kph) in the second.

He did not consider retiring from the match, though.

“I mean, I could go out there. I could play tennis. I could put the ball in the court. Sure, I had a little bit of pain. But I’m going to go out there and play. This sport is one where you see that happen a lot — matches stop — but unless I can’t get up to the line and hit the ball in the court, I’m not going to stop, because I’m not going to take away from the guy that I’m playing,” Shelton said. “I don’t want to take a win from him when it’s 100% a win he deserves. There should be no asterisk next to this match. He went out there and he beat me. It never went through my mind to stop.”

He doesn’t think he will miss any action because of the shoulder.

Shelton still plans to enter the grass-court event at Stuttgart, Germany, that starts on June 10, as he begins preparation ahead of Wimbledon.

“I’m not too worried about this,” he said. “When a pitcher goes over his count, it’s not like his season’s over. I’ll be back in Stuttgart.”


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