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Ricky’s preview and pick for Day 7 of the U.S. Open: Paul vs. Shelton

Tommy Paul and Ben Shelton squared off in the Australian Open quarterfinals earlier this season. Fast forward seven months and they will meet again in another all-American showdown, this time with a quarterfinal spot on the line at the U.S. Open.

Paul won that first head-to-head showdown 7-6(6), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Another good should be in the cards, as this is without question Sunday’s marquee fourth-round matchup–especially for fans of American tennis.

Following John Isner’s retirement on Thursday (after losing to Michael Mmoh in five sets), Paul and Shelton are two of the prime candidates to take the torch and carry men’s tennis in the United States into the future.

They are doing a great job of it so far.

Thanks to his Aussie Open semifinal run plus final appearances in Acapulco and Eastbourne in addition to a semifinal berth at the Toronto Masters, Paul is up to No. 14 in the world. The 26-year-old looks poised to climb even high following victories this fortnight over Stefano Travaglia, Roman Safiullin (in five sets and from two sets down), and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Shelton has not been as consistent, which is understandable given that he is only 20 years old. The world No. 47 struggled following his performance at Melbourne Park, but he thrives on the big stage so it’s no surprise to see him toward the business end of another major. Shelton has advanced so far at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center with defeats of Pedro Cachin, Dominic Thiem, and Aslan Karatsev.

“I’m happy to see him doing well this week,” Paul said of his Miami doubles partners. “(It) should be a fun match. I think everyone is excited about both of us right now. I’m exciting for that matchup.

“Overall we have very different games. He’s a serve and first ball guy. He does it really well. He volleys pretty well. But for me, I’m gonna try and make it a little bit longer than serve and first ball. That’s my whole goal in the match. He brings a lot of energy; I kind of like to keep it mellow. We’re not too similar on the court. (It) should be a pretty fun matchup.”

Shelton had similar thoughts in the press room.

“He’s a guy who has every shot in the book–a great athlete, great mover, amazing defensive skills, but can also play offense,” the world No. 47 said of Paul. “I think that he’s a really savvy tennis player; he uses his brain a lot on court to beat his opponent. (I’m) little bit more of a bigger-ball hitter or server. He places the serve; spins it more…. I think the way we go about things is a little bit different.”

Will it be exuberant big hitter or the calm counter-puncher who triumphs on Sunday?

Shelton no doubt has a chance. If he serves like he did against Karatsev in round three (26 aces), an upset is possible. However, Paul is in awesome form and should be able to play his way into enough rallies to eventually seize the upper hand–just as he did in Melbourne.

Pick: Paul in 4

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on Twitter at @Dimonator.