Djokovic Ends Shelton's Run, Reaches Record-Equalling 10th US Open Final
Novak Djokovic moved to within one win of capturing his 24th major title on Friday when he defeated American Ben Shelton 6-3, 6-2, 7-6(4) to reach a record-equalling 10th US Open final, matching Bill Tilden’s mark.
Playing his 100th match at the hard-court major, the three-time champion demonstrated why he is widely considered the best returner of all time. The Serbian showed great anticipation and hands to neutralise Shelton’s thunderous serve, clinching victory after two hours and 40 minutes against the 20-year-old, who was the youngest American to reach the last four since Michael Chang in 1992.
"These are the kinds of matches and occasions that I still thrive on and get me going and inspire me every day to try and work as hard as the young guys," Djokovic said. "The Grand Slams are the ones that motivate me the most to play my best tennis, perform my best tennis. I knew prior to the quarter-finals 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 anyones 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."
Djokovic, who broke Shelton five times, has now reached the final at all four majors in the same season for the third time in his career (2015, ’21). The 36-year-old also continued his quest to become the oldest man to win the US Open singles title in the Open Era (since 1968). Then-35-year-old Ken Rosewall triumphed in Flushing Meadows in 1970.
"Discipline is everything. I think it is a combination of discipline, will power and clarity of what you want to do," Djokovic said on reaching his 36th major final. "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."
Djokovic has won four titles in 2023, including major crowns at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. He will battle for a record-extending 24th Slam title on Sunday against Carlos Alcaraz or Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic, who holds a 87-13 record at the US Open, lost to Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final.
"I expect it to be the toughest match of the tournament despite who is going to be across the net from me," Djokovic said. "Both of them are amazing players. They are in great form. Daniil won against me in the final a couple of years ago. He has probably been the most consistent player at the US Open in the past five years. Then you have Carlos. What he has achieved at 20 years of age is incredible. He is an amazing player and great for our sport. It is going to be an enjoyable match for me to watch."
Shelton reached the quarter-finals on debut at the Australian Open in January, but had failed to win consecutive matches at his next 18 tour-level events prior to arriving in New York. Armed with a deadly serve, a destructive game and youthful freedom, Shelton showed the world what he was capable of at the final major of the season.
The 20-year-old, currently fourth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah, upset seeds Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe, hitting two 149 mph serves against the former to become the first unseeded semi-finalist at the US Open since Grigor Dimitrov in 2019.
Shelton, who studied at the University of Florida, was unable to find his way past Djokovic in their first Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting, though. The Serbian quickly adjusted to Shelton’s lefty serve, dealing with the pace and variety of spins the American offered up to force the 20-year-old into baseline exchanges.
The 20-year-old thundered a 143mph second serve to hold for 1-0 at the start of the second set and hit several bullet forehands and deft volleys. From 2-4 down in the third set, Shelton rallied to earn himself a set point on Djokovic’s serve at 4-5. The second seed snuffed it out with a big first serve, though, as Shelton struggled to extend his magical moments into prolonged periods of consistency. After levelling at 5-5, Djokovic recovered from failing to serve out the match at 6-5, upping his intensity in the tie-break to clinch his 44th victory of the season.
Djokovic won 84 per cent (56/67) of his first-serve points, struck 28 winners compared to 25 unforced errors and won 88 per cent (23/26) of net points in a consistent display under the roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The 36-year-old also extended his winning streak to 31 matches against Americans, having defeated Taylor Fritz in the quarter-finals. Djokovic last lost against an American at Wimbledon in 2016 when Sam Querrey defeated him in four sets.
Shelton leaves New York up 28 spots to No. 19 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings and is set to break into the Top 20 for the first time on Monday.