Tommy Paul’s mother jumped on a plane in the United States and flew to the other side of the world to watch her son play tennis in Melbourne on Thursday.
Jill MacMillan left New Jersey and landed in time to see her son beat fellow American Ben Shelton, 7-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 to become the first American man to reach the Australian Open semifinals since Andy Roddick in 2009.
“My mom went straight from work to the airport to get here and watch my match today,” Paul said on-court after the win. “And I can’t leave out, it’s my girlfriend Paige [Lorenze]s’s birthday tomorrow so if you guys see her, make sure you wish her a happy birthday.”
A Voorhees, N.J. native ranked No. 35 in the world, Paul was appearing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal and will now play in the semifinals against either nine-time champion Novak Djokovic or Russian No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev.
“This is my first time on this court, obviously my first time in the quarterfinals of a Slam” Paul said of playing in Rod Laver Arena. “It’s actually Ben Shelton first time leaving the States, so I think he had a pretty good trip as well….
“Making it to the second weekend of a Slam, that’s everyone’s dream when they start playing tennis so I can’t believe I’m here right now,” Paul said.
Paul, whose mother owns a farm in South Jersey, has career earnings of about $3.7 million in singles and doubles. He will earn $621,313 for reaching the semifinals. The eventual tournament champion will make close to $2 million.
Shelton, 20, was playing in just his second major tournament after the U.S. Open, and had never traveled outside the U.S. before. The exuberant left-hander won the NCAA singles championship at the University of Florida last May, and then turned pro before the U.S. Open last summer.
Rising from outside the Top-500 in the ATP rankings, Shelton cracked the Top-100 within just one year and rose to No. 43 entering the quarterfinal. He will end up in the 20s after this run. That is higher than his father, Bryan, his coach at Florida, who reached a career-high No. 56 in 1992.
Possessing a big frame and all-court game, the left-hander held serve for 67 straight games entering the quarterfinal but was broken three times by Paul. He still banged out 23 aces in the loss.
After taking the first two sets, Paul led 4-3, 30-0 in the third but overcooked a forehand and ended up getting broken before Shelton earned his first break of the match to gut out the set to force a forth.
Paul endured a right wrist injury that forced him to miss much of 2018 but continues to play the best tennis of his career as he reaches his mid-20s. He reached the third round of the U.S. Open last summer — beating fellow American Sebastian Korda in the second round — before falling to eventual finalist Casper Ruud,
Korda, the No. 29 seed in Melbourne, was the third American in the quarterfinals but ended up retiring in the third set with a wrist injury against No. 18 Karen Khachanov, who will face No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semifinals.
“It’s not just exciting for the American fans, I think it’s exciting for fans all around the world,” Paul said of having three Americans in the quarters. “And for us, too. I’m really excited for Ben, I’m excited for all the players that are coming up. ‘Foe made semifinals of the U.S. Open, and now I’m semifinals here.
“So we definitely have a good crop coming up, and I’m really excited for all of us.”
Serving at 3-5 in the fourth, Shelton raced into get a drop shot but hooked it wide to give Paul a match point. Shelton served up two straight service winners on the way to holding serve.
“Ben’s a tough player to play against and he’s going to be in many more matches like this, so I think everybody should be excited for that kid,” Paul said.
Serving for the match, Paul banged a service winner on double-match point, yelled out “Let’s go” and then embraced Shelton at the net. He won 86% of his first-serve points.
“It took him years to figure it out,” John McEnroe said on air. “He had some injury issues along the way, but he’s come together the last couple years and he’s a formidable player now in the men’s game.
“And Ben Shelton, what a talent this kid is. He’s got superstar written all over him.”