Novak Djokovic has reignited his rivalry with American star Ben Shelton after taking an extraordinary swipe at the 16th seed before his Australian Open defence. Djokovic begins his quest for a record-extending 11th title at Melbourne Park on Sunday night when he takes on Croatia's Dino Prižmić on Red Laver Arena.
The 36-year-old - who took his career grand slam haul to 24 singles trophies after winning three out of four majors in 2023 - has proven himself close to unbeatable at Melbourne Park over the years. The Serb has only lost eight times at the Australian Open over the course of his career, with his last defeat coming way back in 2018.
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As fierce as the 36-year-old is on the court, Djokovic has at times proven just as fierce off it, with his latest shot at Shelton a perfect example. Djokovic and Shelton were involved a tense battle during last year's US Open grand slam and the Serb clearly hasn't forgotten an act from the American that irked him during the semi-final triumph.
Djokovic won the match in straight sets but was not impressed during the contest when Shelton brought out his trademark "phone call" gesture - something the 21-year-old does to signify he's dialled in. The Serb hit back with a brutal response of his own by pretending to hang up on the American after beating him in straight sets - a taunt Aussie tennis ace Nick Kyrgios described as "cold" at the time.
Novak Djokovic hangs up the phone on Ben. 🥶 pic.twitter.com/AvMD9kPY2N
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 8, 2023
US Open encounter still rankles Novak Djokovic
Most fans probably would have assumed the incident was a thing of the past, but in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe before the Australian Open, the Serb accused his rival of disrespect and "unsportsmanlike" behaviour. “It was a reaction against him, he did not behave properly, with respect, on court, and before the match,” Djokovic said about his infamous "hanging up" gesture. “If anyone places himself in the unsportsmanlike zone, I react.”
Another title at Melbourne Park would see Djokovic claim a record 25th grand slam singles title and take him one clear of Aussie legend Margaret Court. “I’m just hoping I can start the season in a way that I have been starting my seasons, most of my seasons, throughout my career, with a win here in Australia, in Melbourne,” he added. It’s my favourite place, no doubt — the court where I’ve done great things and achieved my greatest grand slam results.”
Novak Djokovic's huge call on Alex de Minaur
Among the leading contingent of men hoping to dethrone the Australian Open king is local hope Alex de Minaur - the first local men's player since Lleyton Hewitt in 2006 to head to Melbourne Park in the world's top 10. De Minaur - who plays former World No.3 Milos Raonic on Monday in a tricky first round match - goes into the tournament full of coincidence after claiming Djokovic among his recent scalps.
"He beat Fritz, myself, Zverev; broke into the top 10 for the first time in his career," Djokovic said about the Aussie 10th seed. The World No.1 hailed de Minaur as "one of the quickest, if not the quickest" player in the game and said with Davis Cup captain Hewitt as a mentor, predicted the Aussie could "go deep" in the tournament.
"It didn't come as a surprise to me," the Serb added about de Minaur's superb recent form. "I know that he's capable of doing big things; he's one of the quickest, if not the quickest, tennis player we have in the game. He's got all-around tennis game, can play equally well (in) defence and offence...
"Hewitt by his side as a mentor, who has had a pretty similar style of tennis. It helps a lot to guide him also mentally in this process of competing at the highest level.
"The expectations are high from him as they normally are from (the injured Nick) Kyrgios or any other top Australian player when they play at home. There is a great chance that he can do very well and go deep in the tournament."
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