Djokovic mocks rival as he reaches record-tying 10th US Open final

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New York: 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 (7-4) victory to reach his record-tying 10th US 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.

Novak Djokovic mimicked beaten rival Ben Shelton’s “hang up the phone” gesture.Credit: AP

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 US 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, who entered the day with a tournament-high 76 aces, 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 tie-breaker.

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 Monday (AEST), he will face either defending champion Carlos Alcaraz – who defeated Djokovic for the Wimbledon title in July — or 2021 US Open champion 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, and be level with all-time record holder Margaret Court.

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 v Shelton certainly seemed like a mismatch beforehand: Djokovic was participating in his record 47th slam semi-final and his 100th US Open match; the 47th-ranked Shelton, who just last year was busy winning an NCAA singles title for the University of Florida, was in his first major semi and only his seventh career match at the Open.

And it quickly looked like a mismatch, too, once the semi-final began 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 semi-final victory.

Shelton captured attention over the past two weeks with the powerful swings of his racquet, his loud shouts of “Yeah!” after winning points and his victory-capping pantomime of pretending his hand is an old-style telephone handset that he slams down, a routine he borrowed from former Florida track and field athlete Grant Holloway, a world champion hurdler.

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 grind away, point after point, with his sneaker-squeaking, body-bending defence and more.


Watch all the action from the US Open on 9NOW and 9GemHD, with every match streaming live & ad-free and centre court matches in 4K UHD on the home of grand slam tennis, Stan Sport.

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