Jim Courier leaps to defence of 'misunderstood' Ben Shelton amid Novak Djokovic feud

Tennis great Jim Courier has thrown his support behind Ben Shelton saying he is competitive not arrogant.

Pictured L-R: Ben Shelton, Jim Courier, Novak Djokovic
Jim Courier has leapt to the defence of Ben Shelton, describing him as "misunderstood", as a potential encounter with Novak Djokovic inches closer. Image: Getty

Tennis great Jim Courier has thrown his support behind Ben Shelton as a bad-blood rematch with Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park looms. Shelton and Djokovic's feud began during a bitter US Open match in 2023 that finished with Djokovic mocking Shelton's 'phone hang up' celebration - something the 21-year-old does to signal he's dialled in - after he knocked the American out of the grand slam.

The pair have traded barbs since, with the world No.1 in a recent interview calling out Shelton for his lack of respect. But Courier says the 21-year-old is just "misunderstood" as he is an outwardly confident tennis player and believes he didn't try mean to be disrespectful to Djokovic.

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“I would go with misunderstood,” Courier said on Channel 9 on Wednesday, speaking about a potential blockbuster fourth-round clash between the pair. “I think that Ben is a confident young man and has a lot of swagger on the court. Some people might not take to that, but a lot of people do. I think if you get to know him personally, I think you’ll fall in love with him.”

NEW YORK, USA:  September 10:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia with the winners' trophy and wearing a tracksuit representing his 24th grand slam win after his victory against Daniil Medvedev of Russia in the Men's Singles Final on Arthur Ashe Stadium during the US Open Tennis Championship 2023 at the USTA National Tennis Centre on September 10th, 2023 in Flushing, Queens, New York City.  (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)
Novak Djokovic pictured lifting the US Open winners trophy which marked his 24th grand slam win. Image: Getty

Djokovic won the US Open match in straight sets but was not impressed at the American's antics during the contest after Shelton did his trademark phone call gesture. In return, the Serb pretended to hang up on the 21-year-old after the final point. Shelton and Djokovic could meet in the fourth round of the Australian Open in what would likely be a tense affair.

Novak Djokovic still bothered as he seeks Australian Open history

Shelton ahead of his first-round Australian Open match said the beef was in the past. But in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe, the Serb clearly had not moved on, accusing his rival of disrespect and "unsportsmanlike" behaviour.

“It was a reaction against him (the phone call mock), he did not behave properly, with respect, on court, and before the match,” Djokovic said. “If anyone places himself in the unsportsmanlike zone, I react.”

Another title at Melbourne Park in 2024 would see Djokovic claim a record 25th grand slam singles title and take him one clear of tennis legend Margaret Court. The Serb will like his chances of creating history considering the fact he has proved to be close to unbeatable at Melbourne Park. Djokovic has only lost eight times at the Australian Open in his career and hasn't lost a match at Melbourne Park since 2018.

“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.”

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