Novak Djokovic reaches his 10th US Open final by hanging up the phone on American Ben Shelton


NEW YORK (AP) — Novak Djokovic limited big-serving Ben Shelton to five aces and broke him five times. He pushed back when the 20-year-old unseeded American produced a late stand that got the home crowd into the match.

And after finishing off a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory to reach his record-tying 10th U.S. Open final and 36th at all major tournaments, Djokovic added a touch of insult to injury by mimicking the kid’s “Hang up the phone!” celebration gesture.

Djokovic then pointed to his temple and pounded his fist on his chest, before a stone-faced Shelton met him at the net for the most perfunctory of handshakes. A year after Djokovic could not travel to the United States for the Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, the 36-year-old from Serbia is one victory away from a fourth title at Flushing Meadows and 24th Grand Slam championship overall.

“These are the kind of matches and occasions that I still thrive on. They still get me going and inspire me to wake up and work hard like the young guys,” said Djokovic, who would be the oldest man to win the U.S. Open in the professional era, which began in 1968.

“I still feel I have something in my legs left,” he said. “I still feel I have something to give to the sport.”

Shelton won an NCAA singles title for the University of Florida last year and captured attention over the past two weeks with the powerful swings of his racket that generated a tournament-high 76 aces entering Friday, his shouts of “Yeah!” or biceps flexes after winning points and a win-capping pantomime pretending his hand is an old-style telephone handset that he slams down.

It’s a routine he borrowed from former Florida track and field athlete Grant Holloway, a world champion hurdler, and Shelton said Djokovic’s end-of-match gesture didn’t bother him.

“I don’t like when I’m on social media and I see people telling me how I can celebrate or can’t celebrate. I think if you win the match, you deserve to do whatever you want,” Shelton said with a smile. “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.”

He made things interesting in the third set, lifting his level of play as Djokovic seemed to get a bit tight when the finish line neared. Shelton broke for the only two times in the match, even held a set point at 5-4 and later erased a match point on the way to forcing the concluding tiebreaker.

The fans loved it.

“It was loud,” Shelton said. “I mean, really loud.”

But Djokovic, always so tough when the going gets tough, pulled out the win.

“Got to hold the nerves and try to be composed in the moments that matter,” he said. “Things were going smoothly for me … and then it was anybody’s game at the end of the third set.”

On Sunday, he will face either defending champion Carlos Alcaraz — who defeated Djokovic for the Wimbledon title in July — or 2021 U.S. Open champ Daniil Medvedev.

“Of course, I expect the toughest match of the tournament for me,” said Djokovic, who fell one win shy of a calendar-year Grand Slam when Medvedev beat him in the final two years ago, “regardless of who’s going to be across the net.”

If Djokovic does end up leaving with the hardware this time, he would break a tie with Serena Williams for the most major singles championships in the Open era.

No matter who the opponent or what the outcome is in the final, No. 2 seed Djokovic will replace No. 1 Alcaraz atop the ATP rankings on Monday.

Djokovic vs. Shelton certainly seemed like a mismatch beforehand: Djokovic was participating in his record 47th Slam semifinal and his 100th U.S. Open match; the 47th-ranked Shelton was in his first major semi and only his seventh career match at the Open.

The retractable roof was closed because of rain in the forecast, creating echoes for the soundtrack of yells and applause in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where there were additional police officers and security guards a day after four climate protesters — including one man who glued his bare feet to the concrete in the stands — caused a 50-minute delay during Coco Gauff’s semifinal victory.

In his sleeveless muscle shirt, Shelton came out smacking his high-rate lefty serves. After one at 140 mph (226 kph), he shook his racket. After an ace at 145 mph (233 kph), he screamed.

A couple of lulls for Shelton against the relentlessly intense Djokovic shifted things early. A poor drop shot into the net here, a flubbed volley there, and Shelton got broken to trail 4-2. Djokovic strode calmly to a towel box in a corner to wipe off. Made sense: It was just 20 minutes and six games in.

But the ultimate outcome never truly appeared in doubt. Well, OK, there was that little burst of excellence from Shelton after he trailed 4-2 in the last set.

In the end, though, all of Djokovic’s experience prevailed, along with that ability to return serves, to grind away, point after point, with his sneaker-squeaking, body-bending defense and more.

“He’s a guy who can compete at the highest level, has a similar mentality to me on the court, with how he wants to come after you and be aggressive and show his emotion,” Shelton said. “It was really cool to see that matchup for the first time. Looking forward to hopefully getting it again.”


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