By Luke Jensen, French Open Doubles Champion
I am really excited about this edition of the Jensen Zone. Tennis has been a huge part of my entire life. My dad was the Ludington High School tennis coach, so the sport has had a massive, constant presence in my life.
I share my beginnings in the game because the current, hottest player on the ATP Tour is American Ben (“Dangerous”) Shelton. Last year at this time, he was finishing up a stellar college career at the University of Florida where he helped clinch a National Team Championship his freshman year and followed that up with a NCAA Singles title his sophomore year. Like me, Ben grew up in the game of tennis. His father, Bryan, was an extraordinary competitor at Georgia Tech and an elite professional on the ATP Tour with a career-high ranking of 55 in singles and 52 in doubles. Ben’s mother is an accomplished player and is part of a legendary tennis family from Carmel, Indiana. Ben’s uncles, Mark, Todd, and Rick Witsken, all earned ATP world rankings. Uncle Todd was ranked as high as 43 in the world in singles and 4 in doubles with a win over Jimmy Connors in the 1986 US Open. Bryan Shelton and Todd Witsken played doubles together in the 1994 Indianapolis ATP Tournament.
Growing up in the game with so much tennis family success doesn’t always equate into success in the game. In my experience, knowing so many generations of professional tennis players, the vast majority of them do not push their children into competitive tennis. I have come to believe that the successful tennis player (when he or she becomes a parent) knows extremely well how difficult it can be to become an elite player. The long and lonely road filled with enormous sacrifices is only for the ultimate road warriors that are driven beyond the average tennis player with absolutely no guarantees of victory.
Knowing Ben’s journey is a pathway I highly recommend to all parents with little tennis stars. Ben and sister, Emma, who competes for the University of Florida, had tennis around them as Bryan coached at Georgia Tech (and currently at the University of Florida), but the game was not pushed on them. Ben’s first sports love was football, but through his high school years, the tennis development pathway was developing a game for tomorrow’s success. He had many early losses in juniors to more consistent players. Ben’s freshman year at the University of Florida had him in the middle of the lineup, but he kept working on building a greater game that takes time. College tennis really applied the foundations of greatness that you see today. College tennis allowed Ben’s talent to grow, and with all the matches played, it helped him develop his game for future professional success. Players that did not have a growth mindset just a few years ago who used to beat Ben now watch him beating the best players in the world. No player in the world has risen faster up the professional rankings than Dangerous Ben Shelton.
Every time I see Ben, he is having fun. On and off the court, that enormous smile and positive energy is a superpower that convinces me that Ben can be the best in the world. In a game that is global and filled with extremely talented players, those who have fun will reach their full potential. The players who love being on the court and hate leaving it will hold the biggest trophies on Sundays. It always will be impossible to beat someone who is never defeated. Ben will do extraordinary things in his tennis journey.