Ben Shelton hopes his unique style will disrupt Novak Djokovic in US Open semifinal

NEW YORK — Against the odds, Ben Shelton hopes his advantage is the element of surprise.

It’s hard to believe because his opponent Novak Djokovic, at 36 years old with a bajillion hits on his rackets, has experienced just about every tennis scenario.

But Shelton, as he noted ahead of Friday’s US Open semifinal showdown, is unorthodox.

And Djokovic has never faced him.

“I think it’s an advantage with my game style playing someone who’s never played me before,” Shelton said. “I think that I can bring some things to the table that maybe you don’t see in your normal match that you play on the ATP Tour. So I’m definitely going to try to bring some things to the table that are different and hopefully disruptive.”

‘Disruptive’ is a good ambition for Shelton against Djokovic. After all, he’s trying to upset the natural order of the US Open. From the opening serve of this tournament, a Djokovic-Carlos Alcaraz final felt predetermined. That matchup remains on track with Alcaraz facing Daniil Medvedev in the other semifinal. But Shelton has shifted some of the attention from those tennis titans while developing intrigue because of his untapped talent.

Shelton, at just 20 years old, has the toolbox for stardom. His serve is powerful. He’s 6-4 and quick. His vibe on the court is a human energy drink. Unlike most prospects, Shelton developed in the NCAA, forgoing the international junior circuit on advice of his coach and father, Bryan.

So the experience points are racking up quickly, and the ceiling is rising for a player who represents the youngest American man to reach a US Open semifinal since Michael Chang in 1992.

“Experience can be a wonderful thing, right?” said the father, Bryan, who played professionally and advanced to the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1994. “He’s understood that his return of serve wasn’t up to par. It’s a part of his game that he’s going to have to continue to improve and he’s worked really hard on that aspect of his game. He also understands he has a weapon in that serve but it can get a lot better, and he’s put a lot of time in being able to hit the variety of serves and not just 149 mph every time.

“So I think with the experience that he’s gotten, he’s starting to mature a little bit more as a player. You saw some of that throughout this week or last week and a half.”

Of course, Shelton has no experience against Djokovic, who is a level above anybody the American has ever faced at a Grand Slam tournament. The element of surprise can work both ways.

“Definitely a tough challenge,” Shelton said. “I think that whenever you play somebody for the first time and someone who has been in this situation so many times and come out victorious so many times, that’s in the back of your head.

“You just know how rock solid the guy is and how mentally tough, how physically tough he is. So that’s definitely something that I have to game-plan for.”