Shelton vs. Karatsev: Tokyo ATP Tour Final Debut

Tokyo semi-finals witness an intense Karatsev-Mochizuki showdown

by Zain ul Abedin
Shelton vs. Karatsev: Tokyo ATP Tour Final Debut
© Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

In a groundbreaking showdown at the Ariake Coliseum, young American tennis sensation Ben Shelton edged past fellow American, Marcos Giron, to clinch a spot in the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships final. Shelton, aged 21, battled Giron in a grueling semi-final encounter lasting two hours and 50 minutes, ultimately securing a 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 6-4 win.

Though he lost the first set, Shelton's tenacity enabled him to capitalize on four out of the eight break opportunities, paving the way for a championship face-off with Aslan Karatsev on Sunday. Reflecting on his landmark victory, Shelton remarked, "Today’s match was definitely a test of endurance and skill.

Marcos pushed me to the brink with his baseline prowess, forcing me to recalibrate my approach entirely. However, navigating through these challenges and emerging victorious to enter my maiden ATP final feels overwhelmingly sweet." His impressive performance this year includes quarter-final and semi-final appearances in the Australian and US Open, respectively.

However, before this match, Shelton held the dubious distinction of being the highest-ranked player in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings without an ATP Tour final appearance. Saturday's victory set this record straight, marking his third consecutive three-set win in Japan.

Karatsev Dominates Mochizuki

Following their electrifying match, the stage was set for Karatsev and Japanese wild card Shintaro Mochizuki. Mochizuki's impressive journey to the semi-finals had the Tokyo audience on the edge of their seats.

Unfortunately, his momentum was curtailed by a formidable Karatsev, who displayed his prowess with a straight-set win of 6-3, 6-4, ensuring his path to the finals remained unblemished. Post-match, Karatsev shared, "Facing such a passionate home crowd cheering for Mochizuki was a unique experience.

My strategy was to maintain simplicity and not get swayed by the crowd's energy, and I'm pleased with the outcome." Karatsev's victory charts his path to the fifth tour-level final, a feat he last achieved in Sydney 2022 against Murray.

As World No. 50, Karatsev aims to clinch his fourth ATP Tour title against Shelton. The duo previously met at the US Open in September, with Karatsev enduring a four-set loss. Despite the setback, the week has been transformational for Mochizuki.

Before this tournament, the 20-year-old hadn't won a tour-level match. His spectacular performance has boosted him 84 places to No. 131 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and inched him closer to Next Gen ATP Finals qualification.