Novak Djokovic kept Ben Shelton, known for his powerful serves, in check during the US Open semifinals on Friday, breaking his serve five times. Djokovic was pushed back when the 20-year-old American sensation created some late drama by making a stand after a slow start, drawing the home crowd into the match.
Novak Djokovic’s Serve-Breaking Dominance
Referring to him as a “little black hole,” Djokovic managed to regain his composure amidst the tension and secured a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory at Flushing Meadows, reaching his record-tying 10th US Open final and 36th Grand Slam final overall. Djokovic imitated the “phone down!” gesture of a child, mocking his opponents throughout the major tournaments. It was a celebration.
Afterward, Djokovic pointed to his chest and threw a punch at his own heart before shaking hands with the stone-faced Shelton at the net in the easiest way to connect with the stone-faced opponent. A year later, Djokovic could not travel to the US Open due to not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and the 36-year-old Serbian player is now one win away from his 10th title and the 24th Grand Slam championship, which would tie him with Serena Williams and Margaret Court for the most in the Open Era.
The Rise of Ben Shelton
“Okay, the fact that at 36 years of age, every Grand Slam final could be the last one… I think I probably appreciate these moments more than ten years ago,” Djokovic said, soon to be the oldest man to win the US Open since professionals began competing in 1968. “I don’t know how many guys can say that now.”
Having won the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June, Djokovic has reached the final of all four major tournaments for the third time in his career this season. His 10th US Open final appearance ties him with Bill Tilden for the most in tournament history.
Djokovic’s Composure Under Pressure
On Sunday, Djokovic will face the 2021 US Open champion, Daniil Medvedev, who advanced to the final on Friday night by defeating Carlos Alcaraz 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in the other semifinal. The 27-year-old Russian, ranked third in the world, defeated Djokovic in the 2019 US Open final, denying him the calendar-year Grand Slam.
Medvedev hopes to challenge Djokovic again, saying, “The challenge is that you play against a guy who has won 23 Grand Slams, and I have only one.” “When I beat him here last time, I was better playing than him, so I need to do it again. There’s no other way.”
If Djokovic prevails this time with the hardware, he will tie Serena Williams for the most major singles titles in tennis history and equal Margaret Court’s all-time record in the Open Era.
Historical Milestone in Sight
“It’s another opportunity for history,” Djokovic said, who was seeded second at the US Open but will return to the No. 1 ranking next week, regardless of what happens on Sunday.
Djokovic versus Shelton had all the makings of a one-sided match from the beginning: Djokovic was playing in his record 47th Grand Slam semifinal and participating in his 100th US Open match; 47th-ranked Shelton was playing only his first major semi and his seventh career match at the Open.
Shelton had won the NCAA singles title last year for the University of Florida and gained attention over the past couple of weeks with his high-velocity lefty serve, hitting 76 aces while entering the tournament on Friday, and saying “Yeah!” after winning points. When you win points, biceps get flexed and he mimes picking up his racket with an old-style telephone handset at a match point.
Djokovic, smiling, said, “I thought it was very cute, and I copied him.” “I stole his celebration.”
Djokovic’s Remarkable Season
Shelton actually took things interesting in the third set, raising his level of play as he neared the finish line. Djokovic became visibly frustrated when he fell behind 4-2 in the final set. Shelton only broke once in the match, and even held a set point at 5-4, only to lose it and later squander a match point in the final tiebreaker.
In the end, Djokovic’s experience prevailed, along with his ability to return serves, his sneaker-squeaking, his body-bending defense, and much more, point by point.
Shelton said, “He’s such a kid who can compete at the highest level; his attitude on the court is like mine, he wants to come at you and show his emotions.” “Seeing that matchup for the first time was really good. Hopefully, there’s more to come.”