Novak Djokovic and the young American tennis sensation Ben Shelton found themselves at the center of attention during last year’s US Open semi-finals. The Serb copied Shelton’s hang up the phone celebration after dispatching him on his way to a 24th Grand Slam title. In the aftermath, Djokovic claimed he did it because he loved the celebration as he thought it was “original.” But now the world number has revealed that there is more to the story.
Shelton debuted his now-infamous celebration after beating American Frances Tiafoe in a quarter-final at the Flushing Meadows in September. But later he had to taste his own medicine as Djokovic delivered his celebration back to him.
Novak Djokovic slammed Ben Shelton for ‘unsportsmanlike’ act
Ahead of his Australian Open defense Djokovic looked back on the incident and criticized Shelton’s behavior at the US Open. Speaking with L’Equipe, Djokovic said, “I don’t provoke. This is my reaction to a provocation that came from the opposite side. Concerning Ben Shelton, it was a reaction against him, on the fact that he did not behave correctly, with respect on the court, and also before the match.“
He then added, “I am never going to make fun of someone if they don’t do something first. Every time I lose, I always give my opponent a hug, I congratulate him, I respect him and his team. But if someone places themselves in the ‘unsportsmanlike’ zone, I react.”
After Djokovic imitated Shelton’s celebration in New York last year, he was asked about it in the post-match press conference. However, at the time, Djokovic did not say anything about Shelton being disrespectful or unsportsmanlike. “I just love Ben’s celebration. I thought it was very original. I copied him. I stole his celebration.” These were Djokovic’s words, which seem a world away when you compare them to his latest comments on the incident.
That incident has taken on a life of its own and Djokovic’s comments have stirred the pot even more. Although Shelton is keen to move on from the events of that day, it seems he can’t escape questions about it. Following his first-round win over Roberto Bautista Agut in the Australian Open, he was again questioned about it.
Shelton wants to move forward
After the number 16 seed Shelton won his first-round win in Melbourne he tried to play down the incident with Djokovic when talking to the reporters. He said, “I don’t really have anything else to say on the whole US Open situation.”
He also stated he wants to move on from what happened saying, “I feel like I’ve been asked about it constantly in the last four or five months. I feel like I’ve said my peace on the matter. I would rather just let it settle and move forward.” The American seems keen to get on with the Australian Open as he added, “We’re in Australia now, and we’re at the Australian Open and not the US Open anymore. I’m just focusing on the Australian Open and happy and grateful to be here.” It is possible that we could see Djokovic and Shelton face off again on the court in the last 16 and the latest comments by the defending champion will likely add a little more spark to that possible contest.