Say it to my face, Djokovic tells heckling fan

The 36-year-old Serb was irritated at times by a raucous late-night crowd on Rod Laver Arena

By Reuters

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Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory against Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open. — AFP
Novak Djokovic celebrates his victory against Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open. — AFP

Published: Wed 17 Jan 2024, 9:01 PM

Ten-time Australian champion Novak Djokovic invited a heckling fan to confront him face-to-face during his hard-fought second-round win against local hope Alexei Popyrin on Wednesday.

The 36-year-old Serb was not at his best and was irritated at times by a raucous late-night crowd on Rod Laver Arena.

But the world number one fought off four set points in the third set to claim a 6-3 4-6 7-6(4) 6-3 victory to stay on course for a record-extending 25th Grand Slam title.

Popyrin's chances quickly evaporated in the fourth set in which Djokovic traded barbs with an unruly fan -- commentator Nick Kyrgios saying on Eurosport, for whom he was analysing, that the individual concerned should not have "poked the bear".

Explaining what happened later, Djokovic said: "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. 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."

Heckling aside, Djokovic also had trouble with his game. His forehand was unusually fragile and at times he seemed bothered by the wrist problem that flared up prior to the tournament.

He also looked flat at times as he dealt with a cold but still managed to get the job done against the 24-year-old Popyrin who will rue not taking the third set.

Next up for Djokovic is Argentine Tomas Etcheverry who has already accounted for Andy Murray and Gael Monfils.

Meanwhile, women's champion Aryna Sabalenka made more serene progress and Ons Jabeur crashed out at the hands of a schoolgirl.

Top 10 seeds Coco Gauff, Barbora Krejcikova, Beatriz Haddad Maia, Jannik Sinner, Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas all got through their second-round contests in varying conditions as Melbourne lived up to its reputation for changeable weather.

Rain washed out more than three hours of play on the outer courts at the start of the day but the skies had long cleared by the time Djokovic took to the court where he has won 10 of his 24 Grand Slam titles.

The neighbouring Margaret Court Arena was also rocking in the evening session as locals backed Jordan Thompson as the gutsy Australian plotted an upset of Tsitsipas.

Thompson took the first set but the Greek seventh seed gritted his teeth and battled back to win 4-6 7-6(6) 6-2 7-6(4) after a thrilling match where the final 13-minute game and fourth-set tiebreak were alone worth the admission.

His compatriot, women's eighth seed Maria Sakkari, will probably sleep less well after she was bounced out 6-4 6-4 by Russian Elina Avanesyan in the final match of the day.

Sabalenka made short work of 16-year-old Brenda Fruhvirtova with a 6-3 6-2 in the early evening match on Rod Laver Arena -- a second dominant victory over a qualifier for the Belarusian in her first Grand Slam title defence.

Jabeur's match against 16-year-old Russian Andreeva was played under the closed roof on the main showcourt but the Tunisian sixth seed could hardly blame the conditions given the one-sided nature of her 6-0 6-2 defeat.

Brazilian 10th seed Haddad Maia later had little trouble in her encounter with a talented teen, easing past a third 16-year-old, Russian Alina Korneeva, 6-1 6-2.

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