ew York warms to its favourites quickly and, in Ben Shelton, the US Open faithful has unearthed another.
The 20-year-old, in his first semi-final af any kind on the ATP Tour, was facing up to the ultimate David versus Goliath contest.
Novak Djokovic had won 21 of his last 22 grand slam finals but briefly in the third set, those inside Arthur Ashe Stadium flitted with the prospect of a first American man into the US Open final in 13 years.
Shelton was already the first unseeded man into the semi-finals in New York since 1998, the year after his father Bryan had retired from professional tennis.
His run was in danger of being quashed rapidly by the Serbian, chasing a 24th Grand Slam title, only for the American to rally in the third set and briefly threatened to shift the match’s momentum before an obdurate Djokovic held firm for a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 victory.
It means Djokovic is into all four grand slam finals in a calendar year for the third time in his career, an even more remarkable feat bearing in mind he is 36 years of age. It is also a record-equalling 10th US Open final.
And yet it was Shelton who the crowd came watch, his big-serving, hard-hitting, joyous tennis having earned him plenty of support over the last fortnight.
He unleashed 140mph+ second serves and threw everything at Djokovic. Such was the approach it meant he was beset by unforced errors but, in truth, anything less than all out against Djokovic would have been insufficient.
The elder man has an amazing ability to nullify an opponent, to strangle and suffocate them.
At stages, the match threatened to turn into an all-time classic with stunning shotmaking from both men and yet it always felt like the 23-time grand slam champion had enough at every key point to keep Shelton at arm’s length.
Just a month shy of his 21st birthday, he has all the makings of being a world-class player and surely has the game to push for a title here and be a threat at Wimbledon.
Arguably, his cause was not necessarily helped by the roof being closed with heavy rain after the heatwave and the threat of thunderstorms, such is Djokovic’s mastery on inside courts.
In Australia where he had reached the quarter-final stage, Shelton had run out of gas. On this occasion, he simply ran into a better player.
There were a few moments of what might have been. He saved four set points at 2-5 down in the first set and had a break point against his opponent in the next game but he couldn’t convert.
His second break point, however, he unduly converted in the third set to pull himself back to 4-4 having been previously broken in the opening game of that set.
From there, he perpetually had Djokovic under pressure on serve enough to force a tiebreak. But it only sought to delay the inevitable as the world No2 won but with Shelton still nipping at his heels all the way.
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