US Open: Novak Djokovic sweeps Ben Shelton in semifinal, sends message to young American

Novak Djokovic is back in the US Open final. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Novak Djokovic is back in the US Open final. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Novak Djokovic looked well on his way to an easy victory Friday in US Open semifinal play. Then he responded to late pressure from Ben Shelton to secure his place in Sunday's final.

There, Djokovic will face No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev, who defeated top-seeded Carlos Alcaraz in the other semifinal. The final is a rematch of the 2021 US Open final that Medvedev won in straight sets.

Djokovic took early control of Friday's match with a break in the opening set to go up, 4-2. He maintained control until a tense third set, in which he held on for a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) victory to advance to his 10th US Open final. He’ll seek his fourth US Open championship and 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would extend his all-time record among men.

When the match was over, Djokovic gestured as if he were hanging up a phone, a play on a celebration Shelton used throughout his US Open run.

He then soaked in the moment of what turned out to be a hard-fought win.

The loss for Shelton eliminates the last American in the men’s field. The hard-serving, unseeded 20-year-old defeated two seeded players in countrymen Frances Tiafoe and Tommy Paul en route to his remarkable semifinals run, his deepest in a professional tournament of any kind. But Djokovic proved too tall a task, as the 36-year-old has so many times for emerging players.

Shelton responds

After the match, Shelton was asked his thoughts on Djokovic's post-match celebration.

"I don’t like when I’m on social media and I see people telling me how I can celebrate or can't celebrate," Shelton said. "If you win the match, you deserve to do whatever you want.

"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."

Djokovic holds on in tense third set to set up high-profile final

Djokovic outplayed Shelton for much of the match before Shelton scored his first break in the eighth game of the third set to ramp up the pressure on the 23-time Grand Slam champion. Djokovic returned the break to take a 6-5 lead and serve with the match on his racket. But Shelton broke Djokovic again to force a tiebreak. There, Djokovic was too strong for Shelton, as he took a 5-1 lead en route to the 7-4 tiebreak victory.

Djokovic returns to the US Open final after missing last year's tournament because he wasn't vaccinated against COVID-19 and failed to meet a requirement for entry into the U.S. He'll seek his first title since 2018 after controversy likewise cut his 2020 quest short. He was disqualified in the fourth round that year after he hit a line judge with an errant ball, an infraction that requires automatic disqualification.

Djokovic's return has been met with excitement in New York from a crowd that has witnessed classic battles between the Serb and the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray over the years.