Novak Djokovic narrowly advanced to the third round of the Australian Open after facing a tough challenge for the second consecutive match. Despite winning the longest first-round match of his grand slam career on Sunday, the defending champion had to fend off four set points on his serve to avoid trailing 2-1 against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin.
The top-ranked player in the world ultimately won the third set in a tie-break and seemed to be motivated by a conversation with a spectator during the fourth set, leading to a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 triumph on Rod Laver Arena.
It was not certain if the 10-time winner requested for the audience member to leave, but former Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios, who was working for television, stated: “Simply let Novak know and I will personally leave this commentary box and escort him out.”
Djokovic later described the incident by saying, “I would rather not repeat what was said. There were numerous things being said to me during the match, mostly from one corner but also from the opposing corner. I tried to tolerate it for the majority of the match.”
I eventually reached my limit and confronted him, inviting him to say it to my face. However, he lacked the bravery to do so. That’s what I wanted from him – if he truly had courage and strength, he would come down and have a conversation with me about it.
Popyrin was disappointed that he did not take advantage of any of his four opportunities to win a set in the ninth game of the third set. Djokovic commented during his on-court interview that Popyrin had a simple forehand shot that he missed. Djokovic admits that he was fortunate to come out on top in that game and shift the momentum in his favor. He acknowledges that Popyrin played better for the first set and a half. In the tie-break, Djokovic was able to outlast Popyrin by putting one more shot in play, but he does not consider it a significant achievement.
I believe I performed at a high level in certain moments, but credit must also be given to my opponent for strategically executing a successful game plan and serving strongly. They deserve a big round of applause for their performance.
I have not been performing at my peak, especially since in the beginning rounds, I face opponents who have nothing to lose. They step onto the main court with the intention of playing their best tennis. Both my first and second round opponents were skilled players, but I was able to find a way to come out victorious.
Djokovic’s form will offer some hope to his third-round opponent, Argentina’s Tomás Martín Etcheverry. “I was feeling a lot of mixed emotions on the court, not a great atmosphere to play in for me,” Djokovic told Eurosport. “It’s frustrating when you have the hecklers.”