Novak Djokovic was left “upset” and “frustrated” after challenging a heckler in his Australian Open second-round win over Aussie Alexei Popyrin. Djokovic, who struggled to victory due to illness and a wrist injury, told a fan inside the Rod Laver Arena “come and say that to my face” during a heated confrontation in the fourth set.
The Serb complained that spectators were making excessive noise between the first and second serves throughout the match. The crowd were strongly in favour of home hope Popyrin, who eventually lost 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3.
The incident appeared to fire up an out-of-sorts Djokovic, who is unbeaten at this Grand Slam since 2018 and is seeking an 11th Melbourne success. His performance improved notably after responding to the heckler to extend his winning run at the tournament to 30 matches.
And Djokovic accused the person in question of “crossing the line” after the match: “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, ask him if he wants to come closer and tell me what he wants to tell me. Offend me, insult me as he did. That’s all it is. He was not really keen on coming down. That’s what it was.”
Quizzed on what the heckler said to him specifically, the world No. 1 added: “I mean, you don’t want to know (what he said). 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.
“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.”
Nick Kyrgios was commentating on the match for Eurosport and said: “There’s always some jerk in the crowd who wouldn’t say something to Novak’s face if they were walking through a hallway together.”
The Aussie added: “He’s got extra motivation now, he had a reason to break. He had no reason before that. You can see he’s got that extra energy. You don’t want to poke the bear.”
Djokovic faces 30th seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the third round on Saturday. The Argentine thrashed Britain’s Andy Murray 6-4 6-2 6-2 in his first match before beating Gael Monfils in straight sets today to set up an encounter with the 24-time Grand Slam-winning Serb.