Novak Djokovic blasted French Open fans as “disrespectful” after he defeated Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in a tense third round clash on Friday.
Djokovic, chasing a third Roland Garros title and men’s record 23rd Grand Slam crown, came through 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 against the 34th-ranked Spaniard to reach the last 16 for a 14th successive year.
During an often fractious afternoon, Djokovic earned the ire of fans when he took a medical timeout for treatment on his left thigh at the end of the second set having been on Court Philippe Chatrier for the best part of three hours.
The 36-year-old Djokovic, a polarising figure in tennis, gave spectators a sarcastic round of applause and a thumbs-up.
In the third set, he launced a ball skywards in frustration which again brought jeers.
Djokovic mocked his tormentors by mimicking their boos and nodding his head in weary acceptance.
“I think the majority of the people come to enjoy tennis or support one or the other player. But there are people who love to boo every single thing you do,” said Djokovic.
“That’s something that I find disrespectful and I frankly don’t understand that. But it’s their right. They paid for the ticket. They can do whatever they want.
“Actually 99 percent of the time I will stay quiet but sometimes I will oppose that because I feel when somebody is disrespectful he or she deserves to have an answer to that.”
Djokovic’s issues with the notoriously hostile Paris crowd came a day after US player Taylor Fritz pressed his finger to his lips to shush fans after knocking out Arthur Rinderknech, the last remaining French player in the draw.
Fritz then blew kisses to the Court Suzanne Lenglen crowd.
– Support ‘up and down’ –
“Up and down,” said Djokovic when asked to describe his love-hate relationship with the Paris crowd who have made no secret of their fondness for the now retired Roger Federer and the absent Rafael Nadal over the years.
On Friday, world number three Djokovic had to come back from breaks down in both opening sets, saving a set point in the second after Davidovich Fokina had failed to serve for the first.
Djokovic dropped serve five times in the match as Davidovich Fokina, a quarter-finalist in 2021, matched him blow for blow in the first two sets.
However, the physical effort took its toll as Djokovic, the champion in 2016 and 2021, swept through the third set.
“I knew it would be a difficult and physical match. We played three hours just for the first two sets. I thought if I lost the second set that we would play for five hours,” said Djokovic.
“He’s an amazing fighter and there aren’t many weaknesses in his game.
“But a win is a win and I am very proud of the way I played today.”
Next up for the former world number one is a clash with either Polish 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Peru’s Juan Pablo Varillas.
Djokovic was sluggish throughout the first set.
He retrieved a break to level in the sixth game but was broken again in the 11th, his low-energy mood not helped by a code violation for taking too long between points.
Davidovich-Fokina, who had defeated the Serb on clay in Monte Carlo last year, was unable to back up his second break of the set and Djokovic, suddenly out of his slumber, claimed the tie-break off a blistering forehand service return.
The first set had taken 85 minutes in which the former champion managed just eight winners.
The second set featured six breaks of serve before Davidovich Fokina squandered a set point in the 12th game.
Djokovic claimed the breaker, and bellowed at the crowd. Spectators jeered him as he argued with the umpire before calling the medical timeout.
He then stretched out to a commanding 3-0 lead in the decider and briefly won back the affection of some of the crowd when he helped his opponent courtside after a nasty fall.