Novak Djokovic cruised through to the US Open final after a dominant 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-4) win against American youngster Ben Shelton.
Shelton, playing in his first ever grand slam semifinal, came out all guns blazing but was unable to lay much of a glove on the ever-impressive Djokovic.
The world No. 2 was at his imperious best during the clash and controlled proceedings against Shelton from start to finish.
“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 during his on-court interview after the win.
“The grand slams are the ones that motivate me the most to play my best tennis, perform my best tennis.”
This momentum carried into the next set where Djokovic raced on to claim the second set 6-2 to grab a stranglehold on the encounter inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Being two sets down against Djokovic is a place where no tennis player wants to be and, despite being behind, Shelton will be proud of his efforts in the final set.
The world No. 47 toiled away, making it difficult for Djokovic to advance to the final, and he was even able to break the serve of the 23-time grand slam winner twice during the final frame – forcing a tiebreak.
Djokovic eventually took the third set in the tiebreak and celebrated by imitating his opponent’s celebration – which involves miming holding a phone to his ear and then hanging it up – something that has become a trademark of Shelton’s victories during his US Open run.
The win also means that the Serbian now has a 30-1 record against players playing in their home slam after knocking out the home crowd favorite Shelton.
“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,” Djokovic added.
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.”
The lefty Shelton, playing in just his fifth major, boasts a massive, crowd-friendly game. He had cracked serves at 149 mph en route to his first career major semifinal—and he smacks his forehand seemingly almost as hard. Shelton’s game plan was to overpower and unsettle the vastly more experienced and accomplished Serb.
Although the young American put up a stiff challenge in the final set, and Djokovic was uncharacteristically wobbly at key moments, ultimately Shelton was outmatched.
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 in New York and 24th Grand Slam championship overall.
“Well, fact is that, at 36, every Grand Slam final … could be the last one. So I think that I probably value these occasions and opportunities to win another Slam more than I have maybe 10 years ago,” said Djokovic, who would be the oldest man to win the US Open in the professional era, which began in 1968. “I don’t know how many I have ahead of me now.”