WATCH: Carlos Alcaraz defats Ben Shelton in the 2023 National Bank Open second round

What was Carlos Alcaraz’s takeaway from his first ATP match since he won Wimbledon a month ago?

“It will help me to be more focused for my next round,” he said.

That’s about the best that Alcaraz, or anyone else, could say about his 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over Ben Shelton in Toronto on Wednesday night. If his last match, against Novak Djokovic on Centre Court, was the most memorable of the 2023 season so far, this was one to forget as quickly as possible.

It didn’t start that badly. Shelton came out with a mission to attack the world No. 1 at all costs, and it appeared to be a decent plan. In the opening game, he battered a couple of winning returns off second serves, powered a crosscourt backhand that Alcaraz couldn’t handle, tore up to the net as soon as possible, and earned three break points. Alcaraz saved two with good serves and another with a forehand pass. You wouldn’t have guessed it at that moment, but he wouldn’t have to save any more the rest of the way.

From there, Shelton’s plan of all-out aggression slowly began to look less advisable. Over and over, he went big and missed. His forehands sailed long, his backhands ended up in the net, his drop volleys popped up, and he double faulted to hand Alcaraz the only break he would need in the first set. Early in the second, with a golden opportunity to go up 0-40 on Alcaraz’s serve, Shelton sent an easy lob just over the baseline.


But rather than clamp down and run away with the match, Alcaraz began making errors of his own. He wasn’t pressured on his serve, but he couldn’t muster up much of an attack on Shelton’s. By the middle of the second, the rallies had dwindled to two or three shots max; the crowd had lost its early, “Carlitos is in the building” buzz; and the stadium had mostly gone quiet as the two players traded holds and errors.

That buzz returned for the second-set tiebreaker. Shelton started it with a good smash, and hit a nice reflex volley winner to keep it close. But in the breaker format, where every point counts, he couldn’t use his serve to escape his errors. A missed return and netted forehand took Alcaraz to match point, and he closed it with a service winner.

“It wasn’t easy,” Alcaraz said. “He was more aggressive than me.”

This was the first meeting between the Spaniard and the American, who are both 20. There’s a gulf between them at the moment. Alcaraz is already polished, while Shelton is still the rawest of talents. But as Alcaraz said, the 6’ 4” Shelton has the size and power to take control of rallies against him, or anyone else. It’s a matter of him putting more balls in the court, and playing defense when defense is called for.

“I tried to be solid and get my rhythm,” Alcaraz said.

It’s not clear whether Alcaraz managed to find that rhythm in this rhythm-free match. Either way, he has already improved on his performance in Canada last year, when he lost to Tommy Paul in his opening match. Now, with a little more focus and a win under his belt, he moves on to face last year’s runner-up, Hubert Hurkacz, tomorrow night.