GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Playing in the US Open Tennis Championships is every tennis player’s dream growing up, and for Gators Sam Riffice and Ben Shelton, they will get that chance over the next week as the US Open takes place in Flushing, N.Y., August 24 through September 12.
“It’s one of those opportunities that you can’t really put a price tag on,” head coach Bryan Shelton said. “Being able to soak in this environment and to get a real feeling of what it’s like to rub shoulders with the very best in the world… to see how they practice, practicing with them and to compete against them… there’s no better environment to be in. It’s a motivator, it’s something that validates all the hard work they already put in and it tells them that they are getting closer in narrowing the gaps.”
Riffice has been to the US Open before, but now gets a wild card bid into the main draw after becoming the third player in Florida men’s tennis history to win the NCAA Singles Championship this past season. He competed in the men’s qualifying draw of the US Open in 2019 and played a few times in the US Open Boys Singles Championships as well, but this is the first time he is competing in the main draw of the men’s championships.
“It’s pretty surreal,” Riffice said. “Playing in the U.S. growing up as an American junior, the goal is always to play in the US Open. Being in college and knowing you have one opportunity to get that by winning the NCAA tournament, it’s a big deal. It really means a lot that they are giving me this wild card, and that they believe in me and think I can do well in the main draw. Being around all the other pros, having the best players in the world being there all in one place, is a really special feeling.”
For Shelton, this is his first time playing in the US Open after receiving wild card bids into the main and qualifying draws in the event. Shelton not only finished in the runner-up spot in singles competition, but would go on to win the doubles title with partner Bruno Kuzuhara at the USTA Boys’ 18 & 16 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is set to compete in the main draw for doubles and the qualifying draw for singles.
“It’s a little bit two-fold because you look at Sam coming into this event and it’s definitely a different feeling for him than for Ben,” Coach Shelton said. “It’s Ben’s first time in those ropes. Sam’s been inside those ropes before, so for him, it’s ‘let’s make sure we’re preparing ourselves as well as we possibly can and try to limit the amount of distractions. Let’s make sure we get the schedule set each day, get the practices we need to get in, let’s not stay at the site all day long and let’s attack this as if we’re a professional.’ For Ben, I think it’s a little different. I want him to soak it in a little bit more. I want him to be at that site a little bit more. I want him to see a little bit more and feel a little bit more of how the pros do it. I think for Sam, it is going to be a little bit of a different experience than Ben will have his first time.”
The qualifying draw will take place August 24-27, when Shelton will face Michael Mmoh in the first round. ESPN is providing full coverage of the qualifying draw on ESPNews starting tomorrow through Friday. The main draw will begin August 30 and run through September 12.
For more information, visit the US Open website.