U.S. Open: Daniil Medvedev ousts Carlos Alcaraz, will face Novak Djokovic in final


NEW YORK — Daniil Medvedev ended Carlos Alcaraz’s reign as the U.S. Open champion by eliminating him in the semifinals, 7-6 (3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, on Friday night to set up a rematch in the final against Novak Djokovic.

The third-seeded Medvedev won his lone major title at Flushing Meadows in 2021 by defeating 23-time Slam winner Djokovic in that year’s final.

That prevented Djokovic from completing what would have been the first calendar-year Grand Slam in men’s tennis since 1969.

The top-seeded Alcaraz – a 20-year-old from Spain who will relinquish the No. 1 ranking to Djokovic no matter what happens on Sunday – had been trying to become the first man to claim consecutive championships in New York since Roger Federer won five in a row from 2004-08.

Ever since before the start of these two weeks, folks had been anticipating a Djokovic vs. Alcaraz final. That would have been a rematch of the Wimbledon final in July, when Alcaraz edged Djokovic in five sets.

Instead, it will be Medvedev, a 27-year-old from Russia, who will be appearing in his third U.S. Open final in five years and his fifth major title match in all.

He lost to Rafael Nadal in New York in 2019, and to Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2021 and 2022.

“The challenge is that you play a guy that won 23 Grand Slams, and I have only one,” Medvedev said, looking ahead to taking on Djokovic. “When I beat him here, I managed to play better than myself, so I need to do it again. There is no other way.”

Medvedev had lost to Alcaraz twice this season, including in the Wimbledon semifinals. Those head-to-head results left Medevev concerned.

“Before the match, for sure, a lot of doubts,” he said.

But he was up to the task. Was he ever.

There were moments of brilliance from both men, displays of athleticism, instincts and shotmaking that brought fans out of their seats.

Also often jumping up from his spot in a corner guest box at Arthur Ashe Stadium was Juan Carlos Ferrero, the 2003 French Open champion who is Alcaraz’s coach. Ferrero was looking nervous throughout the second set as the match appeared to be getting away from his guy, keeping up a constant patter of instructions and exhortations in Spanish.

It all helped, if only briefly. Alcaraz really got going in the third set, and his net-charging tactics – including plenty of serve-and-volleying – were mostly effective. He won 54 of 70 points that he finished at the net.

But Alcaraz was not quite at his usual best from the baseline.

“We don’t see him do this often,” Medvedev said. “He started to miss a little bit.”

The final twist came with Alcaraz serving down 3-2 in the fourth set. It was a lengthy game that lasted nearly 15 minutes, filled with a ton of impressive returning by the lanky Medvedev, whose long arms seem to get his racket to everything.

When one Medvedev return landed out, Alcaraz looked up and put his hands together, as if to say, “Thank you!”

But Alcaraz missed one volley, and then couldn’t quite deliver on a stab volley off an angled backhand return. That gave Medvedev the lead and an edge he would not relinquish, even if he did need to put aside a pair of double-faults while serving for the victory as some spectators called out to distract him.

“That’s not so nice. But I’m happy it didn’t help them,” Medvedev said. “They can go to sleep now.”

The second-seeded Djokovic limited big-serving Ben Shelton to five aces and broke him five times in their semifinal. Djokovic pushed back when the 20-year-old unseeded American produced a late stand that got the home crowd into the match.

And after overcoming what he called “a little black hole” caused by tension to right himself, he finished off a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory to reach his record-tying 10th final at Flushing Meadows and 36th at all major tournaments, Djokovic added a touch of insult to injury by mimicking the kid’s “Hang up the phone!” celebration gesture.

Djokovic then pointed to his temple and pounded his fist on his chest, before a stone-faced Shelton met him at the net for the most perfunctory of handshakes. A year after Djokovic could not travel to the United States for the Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19, the 36-year-old from Serbia is one victory away from a fourth title in New York and 24th Grand Slam championship overall.

“Well, fact is that, at 36, every Grand Slam final … could be the last one. So I think that I probably value these occasions and opportunities to win another Slam more than I have maybe 10 years ago,” said Djokovic, who would be the oldest man to win the U.S. Open in the professional era, which began in 1968. “I don’t know how many I have ahead of me now.”

He has made it to the finals of all four majors this season, with victories at the Australian Open in January and the French Open in June.

If Djokovic wins Sunday, he will break a tie with Serena Williams for the most major singles championships in the Open era.

“It’s another shot for history,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic vs. Shelton certainly seemed like a mismatch beforehand: Djokovic was participating in his record 47th Slam semifinal and his 100th U.S. Open match; the 47th-ranked Shelton was in his first major semi and only his seventh career match at the Open.

Shelton won an NCAA singles title for the University of Florida last year and captured attention over the past two weeks with the powerful swings of his racket that generated a tournament-high 76 aces entering Friday, his shouts of “Yeah!” or biceps flexes after winning points and a victory-capping pantomime pretending his hand is an old-style telephone handset that he slams down.

“I thought it was very original, and I copied him,” Djokovic said with a smile. “I stole his celebration.”

Shelton actually borrowed it from former Florida track and field athlete Grant Holloway, a world champion hurdler.

Shelton insisted Djokovic’s end-of-match gesture didn’t bother 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. I think if you win the match, you deserve to do whatever you want,” Shelton said. “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.”

He made things interesting in the third set, lifting his level of play as Djokovic got tight when the finish line neared. Shelton broke for the only two times in the match, even held a set point at 5-4 and later erased a match point on the way to forcing the concluding tiebreaker.

The fans loved it.

“It was loud,” Shelton said. “I mean, really loud.”

But Djokovic, always so tough when the going gets tough, pulled out the win.

The retractable roof was closed because of rain in the forecast, creating echoes for the soundtrack of yells and applause in Arthur Ashe Stadium, where there were additional police officers and security guards a day after four climate protesters – including one man who glued his bare feet to the concrete in the stands – caused a 50-minute delay during Coco Gauff’s semifinal victory.

In his sleeveless muscle shirt, Shelton came out smacking his high-rate lefty serves. After one at 140 mph, he shook his racket. After an ace at 145 mph, he screamed.

A couple of lulls for Shelton against the relentlessly intense Djokovic shifted things early. A poor drop shot into the net here, a flubbed volley there, and Shelton got broken to trail 4-2. Djokovic strode calmly to a towel box in a corner to wipe off. Made sense: It was just 20 minutes and six games in.

But the ultimate outcome never truly appeared in doubt. Well, OK, there was that little burst of excellence from Shelton after he trailed 4-2 in the last set.

In the end, though, all of Djokovic’s experience prevailed, along with that ability to return serves, to grind away, point after point, with his sneaker-squeaking, body-bending defense and more.

“He’s a guy who can compete at the highest level, has a similar mentality to me on the court, with how he wants to come after you and be aggressive and show his emotion,” Shelton said. “It was really cool to see that matchup for the first time. Looking forward to hopefully getting it again.”

More to come on this story.

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Second-seeded Novak Djokovic celebrates a point during his U.S. Open semifinal victory over unseeded American against Ben Shelton on Friday in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

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