The week in tennis: Ben Shelton’s extraordinary year continues, and yes, Billie Jean King can do anything

It’s hard to fully capture Ben Shelton‘s incredible, meteoric year in words.

Playing in his first full season on the ATP Tour, the 21-year-old former NCAA champion opened 2023 by reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open during his first trip outside of the United States. In September, he reached the semifinals at the US Open and became a household name thanks to his fearless play and his immediately viral phone celebration.

Earlier this month, he reached the first Masters 1000-level quarterfinals of his career in Shanghai.

And Sunday, he won the first — of likely many — titles of his career with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Aslan Karatsev in the 84-minute Japan Open final in Tokyo. Shelton seemed overjoyed as he celebrated with his dad, Bryan, who is also his coach and a fellow champion on the ATP Tour. The two became the fourth father-son duo to win tour-level singles titles in the Open Era.

“That meant a lot to me and my team,” Shelton said after the match. “We have been working really hard since the beginning to build my game and win titles on the ATP Tour. I made some deep runs lately.

“You see the great champions, they finish weeks off. They win titles, they don’t just get to finals. They are able to maintain their level throughout the week. I am not saying I am anywhere there yet, but to be able to do it for one week, put together five matches in a row in Tokyo is really special.”

Shelton entered 2023 at No. 96 — and is now at No. 15. With Taylor Fritz (No. 9), Tommy Paul (No. 12) and Frances Tiafoe (No. 14) ranked ahead of him, there are now four American men inside the top 15 for the first time since 1997 — five years before Shelton was born.

And Shelton is not yet done for the season. In fact, Shelton told he was planning on celebrating the milestone win with a cheeseburger before packing and getting on his next flight, as he’s scheduled to open play at the Vienna Open — some 5,600 miles from Tokyo — on Tuesday in a doubles match alongside Dan Evans against Paul and Cameron Norrie. He will then face Jannik Sinner in singles Wednesday. A title in Vienna would propel Shelton right outside the top 10, but no matter what happens in Austria or the rest of the season, he is clearly thrilled about everything he’s already done in 2023.

“I have surpassed my expectations for the year,” Shelton told the ATP. “It has been a dream year for me.”

Here’s what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:

Monfils’ special title

Twelve years after winning the title at the Stockholm Open, Gael Monfils returned to the event — and proved he’s still very much a formidable force on the ATP Tour. The 37-year-old became the oldest champion at the tournament after he defeated Pavel Kotov 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 on Sunday in the final.

Ranked No. 140, due in large part to injuries that sidelined him for portions of the season, Monfils became the lowest-ranked tour-level champion since then-World No. 152 Borna Coric won in Cincinnati last year, according to the ATP. His 12-year gap between titles at the event is also the biggest in the tournament’s history.

Now ranked No. 89 after the triumph, Monfils dropped just two sets throughout the week and appeared to be in vintage form en route to the 12th ATP trophy of his career.

After the win, he adorably thanked the “three ladies” in his life during his on-court victory speech.

“First of all, my mom, thank you,” Monfils said. “As always, [it’s] great to win a title in front of her… My wife, Elina [Svitolina]. Thank you. And the last one, in front of the TV, my daughter, Skaï. It’s my first time as a father I’ve won a tournament, so it’s very special.”

Another first-time champion

Tamara Korpatsch arrived in Cluj-Napoca for the Transylvania Open ranked outside the top 100. She’d never won a title on the WTA Tour.

She left as a WTA champion, with a new career-high ranking of No. 71.

The 28-year-old German battled throughout the week — needing three sets in three of her four matches en route to the final — and then defeated Elena-Gabriela Ruse, the local Romanian favorite, in dominant fashion on Sunday for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

“This victory means a lot to me,” Korpatsch said later. “It’s my first WTA 250 title and I’m so happy about it. I had a very hard week, a very nice week also, and it’s a very nice tournament.”

Elsewhere around the globe, Elise Mertens (Jasmin Open) and Katerina Siniakova (Jiangxi Open) also earned WTA titles.

Count Draqueline

Sure, Korpatsch won the title in Cluj-Napoca, but perhaps no one won over the internet more than Jaqueline Cristian. The Romanian native has worn a Dracula cape — because, Transylvania — for the previous two editions of the tournament and did so again after her first-round victory on Wednesday.

Fans were initially alarmed that Cristian was not wearing the garment as she walked out onto Center Court, but she gleefully put it on — and popped the iconic collar — after her 6-4, 6-4 defeat over Celine Naef.

Cristian lost her next match, but we salute her all the same for getting us into the Halloween spirit.

Brotherly love

It’s been a season of ups and downs for current world No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas. He reached the Australian Open final to start the year and won the title in Los Cabos in July (and started a very public relationship with fellow tennis star Paula Badosa), but otherwise has not lived up to his own high expectations.

Despite his recent struggles, the 25-year-old achieved a childhood dream Sunday: He won a doubles title with his younger brother Petros. The Tsitsipas brothers entered the European Open with a 7-24 record together and weren’t exactly the favorites to claim the trophy. But they fought hard all week long — including a 6-7(5), 6-4, 10-8 victory over Ariel Behar and Adam Pavlasek in the final — to win their first ATP title as a duo.

“This is what we dreamed about growing up,” the elder Tsitsipas wrote on an Instagram story.

Petros, 23, who plays mostly doubles, is now in the top 100 for the first time, with a new career-high doubles ranking of No. 81.

New year, new challenges

Four-time major champion Naomi Osaka turned 26 last week. The former world No. 1 celebrated the occasion somewhere tropical and idyllic looking, but still took the time to reflect on the new year with a lengthy social media post.

Osaka, who recently welcomed a baby daughter named Shai, shared with her followers that she was initially insecure about her parenting abilities.

“Something I had to conquer recently is fighting the thought that I won’t be a good mom,” Osaka wrote. “So many doubts raced through my head I had to swat them away like mosquitoes.”

But Osaka said it was “looking into Shai’s eyes and holding her” that made her realize she had to get past those fears. “I always think, ‘Wow this little person depends on me so much, I have to do better,'” she said.

Osaka, who is scheduled to make her return to competition in January after a yearlong maternity leave, said she now just tries to be grateful and “take in the little things (and the big ones).”

Reception fit for a King

By now we all know Billie Jean King is a woman of many (many) hats. She’s a legendary tennis player, a fierce and longtime advocate for equality, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a trailblazer — you get the idea.

But now, the 79-year-old King can add one more title to her lengthy résumé: singer.

That’s right. King was revealed to be a contestant on “The Masked Singer” on Wednesday. Performing with the alias and disguise of “Royal Hen,” King sang “Philadelphia Freedom” as part of the show’s Elton John tribute week.

Despite the fact the song was — wait for it — written in honor of King herself and various other semi-obvious clues presented to the judging panel, only Ken Jeong correctly guessed it was King. But all four judges and host Nick Cannon were clearly starstruck when King was revealed to the crowd.

Is there anything she can’t do?