(September 8, 2023) FLUSHING, NY – No. 2 seed Novak Djokovic is a winning match away from a fourth US Open title and a 24 major title.
The man from Serbia took out the unseeded 20-year-old American up-and-comer Ben Shelton, playing his first semifinal at the tour level 6-3, 6-3, 7-6(4) on Friday afternoon in Arthur Ashe Stadium. The veteran gained early breaks in each of the three sets and Shelton could not rebound from them.
The 36-year-old Djokovic has now reached his 10th US Open final.
For the young Shelton, this was not only her first major semifinal, but his first final four on the ATP World Tour level. His run at the US Open will move his ranking up to No. 19 in the world. he was the first unseeded semifinalist since 2019 when Grigor Dimitrov lost to Medvedev.
The 20-year-old left-hander is the youngest American man in the US Open semifinals since Chang (20) in 1992.
“I think Novak has a little more fire to him than other guys that I have played,” Shelton said.
“You can just see the competitive spirit, you know, kind of just oozing out of him. He’s like that for pretty much the whole match, he’s pretty locked in.
“It’s funny, because a lot of the things that I saw in myself this week with how I was trying to be on the court competitively and just firing at all times, it was something I was kind of seeing from him as well. I think that that’s maybe something that’s a little bit different than some of the other top players I faced. I wouldn’t say everybody, but some.”
Djokovic’s stats in the first two sets were nearly identical – first set – 7 for 7 at net, 6 winners, 4 unforced errors, 17 for 19 first serve points won with a point total of 31 in the set.
In the second set, he was also 7 for 7 at net, 9 winners and 6 unforced errors, 13 for 15 first serve points won, another set where he won 31 total points.
In the third set, Djokovic broke serve to open but Shelton broke back in the 8th game to draw even at 4-4. At 4-5, Djokovic saved a set point for 5-5 and broke serve and served for the match, only to be broken when he hit an overhead into the net to send the set into a third set tiebreak.
Djokovic closed out the match in the tiebreak 7-4 for game, set and match.
Djokovic caused some controversy with his celebration when he won. He imitated Shelton’s celebration when he beat Frances Tiafoe, pretending to hang up the phone. Also, Djokovic, who usually applauds his opponents as they walk off the court when he wins, did not do so for Shelton.
“Shelton was asked about this in his news conference and Shelton said “I didn’t see it until after the match. You know, I don’t like when I’m on social media and I see people telling me how I can celebrate or can’t celebrate. You know, I think if you win the match, you deserve to do whatever you want.
“You know, as a kid growing up, I always learned that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so that’s all I have to say about that.”
When Djokovic was asked about this, his response was: And I just love Ben’s celebration, Djokovic said with big smile. I thought it was very original, and I copied him. I stole his celebration.”
Shelton was positive about his performance at this major. “I think the two weeks as a whole was a good run for me. A lot of positives to take away for the rest of the year and going into next year.
“It was really fun playing my final slam of the year here and doing well in front of the American crowd. That’s pretty special for me.
“Yeah, not the outcome I wanted in the match today. Some things to be disappointed about in the outcome, but a lot of positives to take, too. Yeah, I’m just really looking forward to getting back to work and getting back out there.”
“I learned a lot about myself these two weeks, knowing how, you know, deep I can go, how deep I can dig, you know, what I can do competitively out on the tennis court, because I think it’s such a mental sport. I think that’s such a big side of it.
“I kind of found a place where I can operate and still be calm and still be clear-minded but be a fierce competitor and get after, you know, the guy I’m playing at the same time and really — I say this a lot to the people on my team — but be a dog out there, have a dog mentality.”
“I always say that American tennis seems to be moving in a great direction, the right direction.”
“I said, many times in the previous years, Grand Slams are the tournaments that still keep me going and motivate me the most to be able to practice hard every day and trying to get myself on a level where I can compete with young guys,” Djokovic said..
Should Djokovic win on Sunday, he will be tied with Margaret Court with 24 career majors. Asked if he’s thinking about getting to 24, Djokovic said:
“Not really, to be honest. I’m not thinking about that. You know, as I said in the previous answer to the previous question, I’m aware that, you know, these kind of occasions where I play in a Grand Slam final at this stage is almost like a present that, you know, I need to accept and try to make the most out of it.
“I was very close to make the 24 in London, but, you know, lost to a better player on that day in a close five-set match. I might be facing him actually again here, which I know that a lot of people wanted, you know, before this tournament started, considering our rivalry and the matches we played against each other when every single match went the distance in the last three occasions we faced each other.
“So I understand I’m, you know, every time in a Grand Slam final it’s another shot for history, you know, and I’m aware of it, and of course I’m very proud of it. But again, I don’t have much time nor do I allow myself to reflect on these things or think about the history too much in this sense, you know, because when I did that in the past, like, ’21 finals here I was maybe overwhelmed with the occasion and the opportunity, and I underperformed.
“So I don’t want this to happen again, and I’ll try to, you know, just focus on what needs to be done and tactically prepare myself for that match.”
Djokovic is 26-1 at majors for 2023, reaching all four major finals.
Djokovic will meet the winner of the night match between No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Daniil Medvedev in the final on Sunday for his record-setting 36th major final.
More to follow…