Novak Djokovic pivots and slams Ben Shelton for being 'unsportsmanlike'

Djokovic and Shelton could face each other in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Tim Clayton - Corbis/GettyImages

During the 2023 US Open, Ben Shelton displayed a new celebration. After defeating fellow Americans Francis Tiafoe and Tommy Paul during his run to the semifinals, Shelton mimicked picking up a telephone from a receiver and then placing it down. It was Shelton's take on a mic drop. But Shelton had the action returned to him after Novak Djokovic defeated Shelton in the semis.

At the time, Djokovic said he thought Shelton's celebration was "original" and did not have an issue with what Shelton did. However, the 21-year-old Shelton's father, Bryan, felt Djokovic was mocking Shelton. That seems hypocritical, though, as the less classless thing for Shelton to have done was to simply go up to Paul and Tiafoe after Shelton won the last point and congratulated the other players on a match well played.

Djokovic appears to have changed his tone about Shelton's celebratory move in the last few months, however. In a recent interview with French website L'Equipe, Djokovic said his mimic of Shelton's phone move after Djokovic's semifinal win was not so much an homage, but actually a mock. In other words, Djokovic appears to have proven Bryan Shelton's thoughts to be true.

Novak Djokovic changes tune on Ben Shelton celebration

Djokovic said to L'Equipe, "This is my reaction to a provocation that came from the other side, it was a reaction against (Ben Shelton). He did not behave properly, with respect, on court, and before the match. I’m 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. If anyone one places himself in the ‘unsportsmanlike zone’, I react."

There are many ways of looking at the Shelton and Djokovic situation, of course. Since Shelton is so young, maybe he is not aware of the disrespect that the phone mime brings. It is a very American kind of celebration (and I am American) and fairly classless. One of the things that makes tennis great is that once a match is done, the players meet at the net and congratulate each other on having played. Shelton needs to be a bit more tasteful.

Djokovic could also have chosen not to mimic Shelton because that does not do much good, either. But Djokovic has likely earned the right to mimic whomever he pleases after winning 24 Grand Slams.

There could also be an element of boxing involved in Djokovic's recent comments and he could just be trying to create some build-up to a potential fourth-round match at the Australian Open with Shelton. There is nothing wrong with that.

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