Novak Djokovic explains ‘stealing’ Ben Shelton’s celebration in US Open win

Novak Djokovic claimed he “stole” Ben Shelton’s post-match phone celebration because it was “very original” after reaching his record-equalling 10th US Open final. “I just love Ben’s celebration,” he said. The Serb saw off late resistance from the young American to set up a Sunday showdown with Daniil Medvedev. The No 3 seed shocked defending champion Carlos Alcaraz in the second semi-final.

Shelton had celebrated his quarter-final win over his fellow American Frances Tiafoe by pretending to take a call and then hanging up – a gesture to show: “I’m dialed in.”

He explained the “Hang up the phone!” celebration was the “signature thing” of American sprinter and fellow former University of Florida student Grant Holloway.

But Djokovic had his number in Shelton’s first Grand Slam semi-final to win 6-3 6-2 7-6 – and then mocked Shelton by mimicking the phone gesture without any emotion. A cold handshake followed at the net.

But in his post-match press conference, Djokovic smiled and said: “I just love Ben’s celebration. I thought it was very original, and I copied him. I stole his celebration.”

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Djokovic is never far from controversy and missed last year’s US Open after refusing to take a COVID-19 vaccine. He was disqualified here in 2020 for hitting a line judge with a ball.

Shelton, the last American man to exit the men’s singles, responded carefully when asked about the Djokovic celebration. “I didn’t see it until after the match,” he claimed. “I don’t like when I’m on social media and I see people telling me how I can celebrate or can’t celebrate. I think if you win the match, you deserve to do whatever you want.

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“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.” Medvedev is hardly a favourite of the New York crowd and the locals will face a tough choice over who to support on Sunday night after the elimination of Alcaraz.

There will be no repeat of the Wimbledon final but instead a re-staging of the 2021 final won here by the Russian. With Aryna Sabalenka in the women’s on Saturday, the two singles titles could be won by a Belarusian and a Russian during the war in Ukraine.

Djokovic equalled the record set in 1929 by American Bill Tilden of reaching 10 US Open finals – and will bid to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. The Australian and French Open champion, who reached the final of all four Grand Slams this year, also has the chance to become the oldest winner of the US Open at the age of 36.

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“The fact is that at 36, every Grand Slam final, I don’t know, could be the last one,” said the Serb. “So I think that I probably value these occasions and opportunities to win another Slam as more than I have maybe 10 years ago, because 10 years ago I felt like: ‘Hey, I still have quite a few years ahead of me’.

“I don’t know how many I have ahead of me now, or I don’t know how many years I will play four Slams in the whole season that I have in front of me. So of course I am aware of the occasion. But I try to approach Sunday’s match as basically any other match with the intention to win, and I’ll play my opponent.

“Knowing that it’s going to be the toughest challenge, without a doubt, not just because it’s a final but also because the last time I faced him in a Grand Slam final I lost here in ’21 US Open final.”

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