Florida sophomore Ben Shelton held a 5-2 lead in the third set of the singles championship match.
The No. 2-ranked player and current SEC player of the year was on the verge of greatness, about to secure the national title.
Shelton calmly delivered a powerful serve. San Diego redshirt senior August Holmgren countered quickly, playing the ball back to Shelton's court.
Shelton jumped at the chance to end the match. He placed the ball just out of Holmgren’s reach to capture the 2022 Division I singles title.
The match was anything but comfortable. Shelton lost the first set 4-6, before he took an early 3-1 lead in the second set. Shelton kept Holmgren at bay for the remainder of the contest, ultimately winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Shelton pumped his fist and shook hands with Holmgren before volunteer assistant coach Scott Perelman embraced him in a celebratory hug. His father, Florida head coach Bryan Shelton, trailed behind. The Buchholz High School product grinned over his father's shoulder as he soaked the moment.
“I'm just really proud of him today with the way that he competed,” Bryan said. “He never lost his resolve even after losing the first set, he just continued to get better as the match progressed.”
Following the win, the newly crowned champion marveled at Holmgren’s talent.
“To be able to beat a player like [Holmgren] and come out on top, it's really special,” Shelton said. “I'm glad that I got to do it with a lot of my family here, my dad on the court with me, our great coaches and my teammate Sam on the sidelines cheering for me.”
Shelton battled his way to the title match against Holmgren. He defeated Michigan junior Ondrej Styler 7-5, 6-2 and Notre Dame senior Axel Nefve 6-0, 7-6 (7-1) in the first two rounds of play. The sophomore kept it rolling, overcoming Ohio State sophomore JJ Tracy 6-4, 6-4 and Stanford sophomore Arthur Fery 6-3, 6-4.
His Final Four performance ultimately punched his ticket to the finals. Shelton executed an impressive comeback to eliminate Tennessee graduate student Adam Walton 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5.
His display of toughness mirrored teammate Sam Riffice’s performance a year ago. The Gators’ top doubles pair now individually hold back-to-back singles
titles. Riffice won the program’s third NCAA singles crown last season.
Riffice put up a formidable showing as the reigning singles champion, advancing to the Final Four alongside his teammate. An all-Florida final wouldn't materialize, however, as the veteran did not outlast Holmgren, who advanced to the final 6-7, 6-4, 6-2, to leave one Gator standing.
Shelton and Riffice vied for a doubles title in addition to their individual quest, but their run came to an end in the quarterfinals, falling to Texas redshirt sophomore Cleeve Harper and senior Richard Ciamarra 7-5, 6-2.
Shelton becomes just the fourth singles champion from Florida and qualifies for a Wild Card bid into the 2022 U.S. Open Main Draw.
Brenda Bogle is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in sports and media. She joined The Alligator in the Fall of 2021.