Novak Djokovic might have picked up an enemy on his way to a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the US Open.
Before dispatching Daniil Medvedev in the men's singles final, the Serbian defeated unseeded American Ben Shelton in the semifinal. Djokovic put away Shelton in three sets, then celebrated by making a curious phone gesture with his hand:
THIS LEAGUE! THIS LEAGUE! THIS LEAGUE! pic.twitter.com/M39UlKWfxu
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2023
That gesture happened to be a reference to something Shelton had done multiple times during his run at New York City.
Shelton himself didn't seem too bothered by the gesture at his expense after the match, telling reporters Djokovic was free to celebrate how he wanted and implying he was flattered that the world No. 1 had apparently noticed him enough to imitate him:
"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 indicated that to be the case during his own news conference, saying “I just love Ben’s celebration. I thought it was very original."
Let's just say Shelton's father didn't see it that way.
In an interview with GQ published Thursday, Bryan Shelton blasted Djokovic for supposedly mocking his son's celebration rather than celebrating it:
“He wants to be loved so much, Novak …” Bryan went on: “He wanted to mock Ben at the end. It wasn't something he was doing just to copy Ben. It was to mock him. And that's too bad, for that to come from such a great champion.”
That might be a harsh way to view Djokovic's behavior, but a little mockery shouldn't be enough to mar Shelton's US Open run. The 2022 NCAA men's singles champion reached his first career Grand Slam semifinal in his first year as a pro at only 20 years old.
To get there, Shelton took down No. 10 Francis Tiafoe in the quarterfinal and No. 14 Tommy Paul in the fourth round, two of the top 3-ranked Americans in the draw. He might not have taken a set off Djokovic, but his performance in Flushing Meadows could be enough to inspire hope in him as the next great American tennis player.