World No.1 Novak Djokovic admits his ugly clash with a tennis fan at the Australian Open on Wednesday night was the spark he needed to overcome gutsy local hope, Alexei Popyrin. The Serb - aiming to claim a record-extending 11th title at Melbourne Park and an unprecedented 25th grand slam singles crown - survived a scare against the 43rd-ranked Aussie before booking his spot in the third round with a 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win.
It was far from straightforward for the Serb against Popyrin, who took the second set off the 36-year-old and had four set points against Djokovic in the third before losing the tiebreak. The fourth set was level at 2-2 when Djokovic's patience wore thin with a spectator who had been targeting him with heckling throughout the contest.
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Djokovic took issue with what the fan was shouting from the stands inside Rod Laver Arena and walked over to confront the heckler, before being heard shouting: "Come here and say it to my face". Djokovic wouldn't go into detail about what was said to him during his post-match press conference but revealed he was being targeted at both ends of court by the largely pro-Popyrin crowd.
"There was a lot of things that were being told to me on the court, particularly from that corner, and the same side the other corner," he said. "I was tolerating it for most of the match. At one point, I had enough, and I asked him whether he wants to come down and tell it to my face.
"When you confront somebody, unfortunately for him, he didn't have the courage to come down. That's what I was asking him. If you have courage, if you're such a tough man, tough guy, come down and tell it to my face, and let's have a discussion about it. He was apologising from far away. That's all it is."
— Eurosport (@eurosport) January 17, 2024
Djokovic admitted the heckling did upset him but also admitted the incident provided the spark he required to ultimately overcome his plucky opponent. "Maybe that was needed for me to be shaken up a bit," the 36-year-old added.
"I'm not going to sit and say it's all good. It's not good. Of course, it upsets me. I'm frustrated. I don't want to be experiencing that, but I have to accept it as it is. Sometimes, I don't tolerate when somebody crosses the line. That's it. That's what happened.
"People have a few drinks... I guess late at night as well, that probably also has an effect on how they feel and behave. That's okay. People pay tickets to come and watch us. They want to see the show. They want to have fun. They're allowed to do that.
"There's no issue in terms of I never asked anyone to leave the stadium. I never asked the chair umpire to take somebody out. I wouldn't do that because he paid his ticket, and he has the right to be there and say what he wants to say and behave how he wants to behave. But if somebody crosses the line, I'm going to take it to him, as I did to this guy."
Fans hit out over 'disrespectful' crowd drama
Djokovic has endured a love-hate relationship with fans over the course of his career and has been called out for clashing with spectators in the past. This time, the majority of backlash appears to be against the rowdy fan, who many have slammed on social media for the "disrespectful" act.
This is the moment when someone in the crowd said something to Novak Djokovic & Novak said: “Come down & say it to my face” 🔥
So Disrespectful to the Greatest of All Time @DjokerNole #Djokovic #AusOpen #AO2024 pic.twitter.com/NZzEeJDFhv
— Shane Gupta (@Shanegupta22) January 17, 2024
Novak winning at 60% against an opponent that is probably playing the best tennis of his life, while managing a disrespectful crowd.
This is what 🐐are made of! Stuff of legends! @DjokerNole #djokovic #AO24
— Unknown (@AbysmalProximus) January 17, 2024
Novak Djokovic was asked if it upsets him when there are ‘idiots’ in the crowd who go too far:
“It does. I'm not going to sit & say it's all good. It's not good. Of course, it upsets me. I'm frustrated. I don't want to be experiencing that, but I have to accept it as it is.… pic.twitter.com/DzdaH88TJW
— The Tennis Letter (@TheTennisLetter) January 17, 2024
He would never have stopped heckling if Novak did look into his eyes! Since the umpire wasn't bothered, which he should have, only way out was Novak taking him on!
There should be some minimum basic rules (like no heckling) for spectators for entry in the stadium 🏟️
— 🦋KING 24👑, GOAT 409🐐, CHAMP 8 🐺, CROC 10 🦋 (@alliswe75081657) January 17, 2024
I knew it!
As soon as the heckler got involved, Djokovic went into lockdown mode
They never learn 😆
— Tennis Puneet 🎾 📚 (@TennisPuneet) January 17, 2024
Jordan Thompson also out in sad night for Aussies
Djokovic's win saw him set up a third round clash with Argentina's Tomas Martin Etcheverry, who thumped French veteran Gael Monfils 6-4 6-4 6-4. Another one of the Aussie male contingent fell in the second round on Wednesday night when Jordan Thompson also went down in four sets to World No.7 Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek ace failed to convert two match points and then saved four set points in a frantic finish to the fourth set, before booking a third round date with Frenchman Luca Van Assche, who beat Italy's Lorenzo Musetti. 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-0. "At this very moment, I only remember the last point. The adrenaline and the rush that I got out of this match was insane," Tsitsipas said after his win. "You live for these kind of matches. Jordan didn't stop fighting. I was serving for the match. He had an incredible comeback."
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