Ben and Bryan Shelton spearhead Gators championship success in men’s tennis – Orlando Sentinel

GAINESVILLE – Staring at the young but familiar figure on his computer screen, Florida tennis star Ben Shelton already know what’s coming.

The coach’s son still can’t fight his training or his instincts.

The player Shelton sees on YouTube is Father Bryan who succumbs in the final stages of a crushing Wimbledon Round of 16 loss to Christian Bergstrom.

“I watched this a couple of times, like, ‘Shut that up!'” exclaimed Ben.

Bryan laughs, seated next to his son, although the memory of that decisive fifth set, 10-8, probably stings the 56-year-old Gators head coach even 28 years later.

Footage is sparse of Bryan Shelton’s professional career, which included two wins, over $1 million in earnings and a ranking as high as No. 55 on the ATP Tour.

Ben Shelton consumed the catalog.

“Every time we see a player crack the top 100, we tell ourselves he’s made it,” he said. “To have the chance to play at this level is really impressive. I wish I could have seen more tapes or watched more of him.

The 19-year-old’s rise in the sport serves as a reminder.

Ben Shelton’s passion and competitiveness are innate while his technical and strategic prowess is learned. These qualities instilled by his father, along with his 6-foot-3 son’s considerable athleticism, form the basis for the nation’s second-largest singles player and second-leading defending national champion.

The Sheltons will be front and center as the No. 2 Gators (23-2) begin the defense of their 2021 crown Friday night in Gainesville against New Orleans in a four-team region, also featuring Miami and South Florida. Florida.

But Florida’s success is more than a family affair. Sam Riffice from Orlando is the defending national singles champion, among four top-125-ranked Gators, and Ben’s partner on the fifth-ranked national doubles team.

“We’re really focused on making ourselves as unbreakable as possible and becoming a tight-knit group,” Ben said. “We trust each other and have a mentality in our games that we don’t have to win our game. We can just go out and play and we know the pressure isn’t entirely on our shoulders because the guy next to us is going to do the job if we don’t.

“It’s one of our greatest assets.”

Bryan Shelton’s vision for a championship program focused after retirement and later coached the women’s team at Georgia Tech, his alma mater and eventual 2007 national champions.

Ben Shelton, then a young child, barely noticed.

Football instead caught his eye as future Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s legendary career came to an end with the Yellow Jackets.

“We went to every game. I had a Calvin Johnson jersey,” Ben recalls. “He was my favourite. It was the first sport I really fell in love with.

Ben became the starting quarterback for Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta and then Gainesville after his father became the men’s coach in 2012.

Older sister Emma Shelton, now a junior with the Gators, was the tennis prodigy in the family.

“It was my sister’s thing,” Ben recalled. “It was my dad’s thing and they could do it together – and I was going to be that football player.”

Family ties and a dose of sibling rivalry eventually changed his mind.

“I started to get a little jealous that my sister could go to these cool places on the weekends and play tennis tournaments and train with my dad every day,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Hmm, maybe I want to try that too.'”

Growing pains were inevitable, but Ben’s linebacker mentality caught his father’s attention.

“He loved to compete,” the elder Shelton recalled. “He was a bit emotional because he just didn’t want to lose. We put them in small tournaments quite early on because he didn’t want to train all day and not play.

“Being around other kids and competing was his thing.”

The intangibles were enough to separate Ben early on.

“It’s one of those things that stands out in the world of tennis: there are a lot of kids who want to perfect their tennis, but don’t like competition,” Bryan said. “They’re scared of it. Here’s this guy who wants to put it on the line every time. I saw that and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s pretty special.’

Refining his technique and adopting his strategy would follow.

“I didn’t fall in love with mastering the fundamentals,” Ben Shelton said. “I was sloppy with my footwork. I was lazy. It was one of the things I didn’t respect enough…and probably improved the most on.

Along the way, Shelton became one of the top junior players garnering attention from coast to coast. Even a visit to famed 16-time national champion Stanford didn’t convince him to leave home or his father’s side.

“He can get me back in the right frame of mind faster than anyone,” Ben said.

Bryan Shelton became an All-American and ACC champion in singles and doubles at Georgia Tech thanks to the talent and spirit of an industrial engineering major.

“My dad has a great mind for tennis… seeing the angles and the geometry of the court,” Ben said.

Still, his father sometimes struggles to calculate how to juggle his son and his Gators teammates.

“You want everyone to be successful, and those guys really become your sons as well,” Bryan said. “You know they’re watching and they’re watching and other people are watching – you want to send the right message. Mostly wait, pause and then act. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I run into him or I’m a bit too firm and it can become a distraction for the rest of the team.

“I even heard one of our captains say, ‘I would love to see you train me as hard as you train Ben.’ It got me thinking, ‘Am I not training everyone hard?’ “

The results speak for themselves.

The Gators are poised to become the second SEC (Georgia) program to win back-to-back national titles, with the Sheltons leading the way.

“I couldn’t imagine playing anywhere but for this guy,” Ben said.

This article first appeared on Email Edgar Thompson at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.

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