Djokovic Hangs Up The Phone On Shelton, Reaches His 10th US Open Final

Novak Djokovic (photo: US Open video)

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON, September 9, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

By his own admission, Novak Djokovic‘s US Open semifinal victory over 20-year-old American Ben Shelton Friday in his 100th career singles match at Flushing Meadows is the kind of match and occasion that he still thrives on.

If the final score of 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4), which favored the 36-year-old Serbian, is any indication, not only does it get Djokovic’s competitive juices going but it also inspires him to work as hard as the young guys. After beating the former NCAA champion Shelton, Djokovic imitated – mocked? – his opponent’s very original phone-call celebration from the American’s celebration after his quarterfinal win on Tuesday.

Djokovic earned himself another opportunity at a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title after beating Shelton in straight sets, in two hours and 41 minutes, with the roof closed over Arthur Ashe Stadium as a weather precaution. He struck 28 winners to 25 unforced errors, broke Shelton five times and outpointed him 112-89.

“The Grand Slams are the ones that motivate me the most to play my best tennis, perform my best tennis,” said Djokovic in his post-match news conference.  He has now reached the final at all four majors in the same year for the third time.

I knew prior to the quarterfinals that I would play an American player and that is never easy. To control the nerves and be composed in the moments that matter. Today, things were going really smoothly for me and then he broke back and it was anyone’s game at the end of the third set. This is the kind of atmosphere we all like to play in, so I am really, really pleased with this win today.”

The victory also lifted Djokovic into his 10th US Open final. On Sunday, he will oppose No. 3 Daniil Medvedev of Russia, who ended the reign of 20-year-old defending champion Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, in three hours and 19 minutes, in Friday’s second semifinal.

Djokovic has won the US Open crown three times, most recently in 2018. In facing Medvedev, it will be a rematch of the 2021 US Open final, which Medvedev won 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. The Serbian leads their career head-to-head 9-5. Regardless of the outcome, Djokovic will return to the World No. 1 ranking on Monday replacing Alcaraz.

“The challenge is to play a guy who won 23 Grand Slams and I have only one,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview after swatting nine aces to go with 38 winners against Alcaraz, who countered with 45 winners. “When I beat him here, I managed to play better than myself and I need to do it again. There is no other way.”

Against Medvedev, Djokovic will attempt to become the oldest US Open men’s champion in the Open Era (a mark currently held by then-35-year-old Ken Rosewall set in 1970), which would also see him tie Margaret Court‘s all-time mark for most major singles titles.

“Discipline is everything. I think it is a combination of discipline, will power and clarity of what you want to do,” said Djokovic, who will be competing in his 36th major final on Sunday. “What your short and long-term goals are. I have been pleased to play this sport for many years and have achieved a lot. I still feel I have something in my legs left. I feel I still have a lot to give to the sport. Another Grand Slam final, I can’t be happier.”

Meanwhile, Shelton, who started the New York fortnight ranked 47th, will break into the Top 20 and move up to No. 19 next week. “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,” he said in his post-match news conference.

“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. … 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. I’m just really looking forward to getting back to work and getting back out there.”

Historic title victory for Ram and Salisbury

American-British duo Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury made US Open history Friday afternoon on Arthur Ashe Stadium. They became the first men’s doubles team in the Open Era (since 1968) to win three consecutive titles at the hard-court major.

Ram, 39, and Salisbury, 31,  earned a comeback triumph over Rohan Bopanna of India and Matthew Ebden of Australia 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in two hours and four minutes, played in 32-degree Celsius conditions. At age 43, Bopanna was the oldest Grand Slam doubles finalist in the Open Era.

The victory was the 18th straight at the US Open for Ram and Salisbury, who won titles in New York in 2021 and 2022. They also won the 2020 Australian Open title.

Meanwhile, Bopanna was attempting to win his first major trophy after losing the US Open final 13 years ago in 2010 with Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan, while Ebden, 35, was pursuing his second Grand Slam title after winning his first last year at Wimbledon with fellow Australian Max Purcell.

“I have been lucky enough to come here every year since I was 14 and I remember the Arthur Ashe Kids Day the first day this stadium opened in I think 1997, with John McEnroe and Pete Sampras,” said Ram, who lives in Carmel, Ind., during the trophy ceremony. “Just to be out here, I have tons of family here and the whole team in the box. It is something I could never have thought of in my wildest dreams and I have got to thank so many people, but especially my partner.

“This is our fifth year together. It hasn’t been the best year together but we stuck it out and put in a lot of hard work and kept believing. It was pretty emotional after yesterday’s win but today I can’t believe we are here.”

Salisbury, a London resident added: “This partnership is really special. It has been five years and we have got pretty close. Especially on the court and we know we are going to give it our all. Fight hard and give it our best until the very end. That is what we did today.”

Around the US Open

The US Open women’s doubles final pairings are set following the semifinals, which took place Friday afternoon on Louis Armstrong Stadium. Advancing are a past champion team and a new dynamic duo.

On one side of the net will be No. 16 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Erin Routliffe of New Zealand, who charged into the final after playing in just their fourth event as a team. They took out No. 8 seeds Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan and Wang Xinyu of China, this year’s Roland Garros champions, 6-1, 7-6 (4), in an hour and 42 minutes in the first semifinal. The winners converted seven of nine break points. The loss snapped Hsieh’s undefeated 16-0 record at Grand Slams this season, which included winning the French Open with Wang and Wimbledon with Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.

On the other side of the net will be 2020 US Open champions Laura Siegemund of Germany and Vera Zvonareva of Russia, seeded 12th, who eliminated unseeded Jennifer Brady of the United States and Luisa Stefani of Brazil, 6-4, 6-1. Since teaming up to win the US Open three years ago, Siegemund and Zvonareva have won three more titles together, including at Washington, D.C. last month.

By the numbers

For the first time since 2011 the top three seeds were in the US Open semifinals with Carlos Alcaraz, Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. The trio was joined by unseeded and first-time Grand Slam tournament semifinalist Ben Shelton.

Novak Djokovic is the fourth man to play in at least 100 singles matches in US Open tournament history behind Jimmy Connors (115), Roger Federer (103) and Vic Seixas Jr. (102), who turned 100 years old on August 30.

No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka is through to her first US Open final, previously making the semifinals twice – in 2022 (losing to Iga Swiatek) and in 2021 (losing to Leylah Fernandez). Meanwhile, No. 6 Coco Gauff will be also be contesting her first US Open final after previously reaching the quarterfinals in 2022.

“Quotable …”

“I think 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 was pretty happy with the way I competed throughout the tournament.”

Ben Shelton of the United States, during his post-match news conference, commenting on his semifinal run at the US Open.