Margaret Court has been a polarising issue at the Australian Open, with Sven-time champion Novak Djokovic the latest to weigh in on the grand slam record holder.
Djokovic was asked about the controversial Australian champion in the wake of his straight sets win against Roger Federer in Thursday night's semi-final at Melbourne Park.
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Tennis greats John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova staged a bold public protest against 77-year-old Court earlier in the week.
The legendary pair apologised to Tennis Australia for a breach of "protocol" after holding aloft a sign urging Margaret Court Arena to be changed to Evonne Goolagong Arena.
Court, who holds the all-time record of 24 grand slam singles titles, has been heavily criticised for voicing her religious-based opposition to same-sex marriage and transgender athletes.
When asked about his own thoughts on the divisive Court, Djokovic said her opinion should be respected by critics even if they didn't agree with it.
“Margaret is a huge champion, a tennis hero in Australia, and also around the world. One of the most important tennis players in the history of women’s game,” Djokovic said. “Of course, when she says something like that, it has a huge impact.
“I don’t support … what she said. I don’t think it was the right thing to say. But she probably has her reasons and we have to respect that she has a difference in opinion. That’s all there is to it.”
McEnroe and Navratilova said while they were sorry for the way they went about the Court protest, they did not regret the campaign against her.
American McEnroe, 60, reportedly ‘hung up’ on Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell after a fiery debate about his stance on Thursday morning.
Mitchell said many people thought the seven-time major winner had "insulted Australia" through his actions.
“I think that's a little going overboard, personally. Tennis Australia and I have had an excellent relationship – they've done a fantastic job with this tournament and made it bigger and better each and every year,” McEnroe said.
“To say that I'm insulting Australia – I don't see where you can take it to that level. That certainly wasn't what we were planning on doing. That would not be intentional and I'd be quite surprised if people felt that way.”
Mitchell then said he didn’t agree with Court’s views but didn’t think she was being ‘homophobic’.
The radio host also asked McEnroe if Tennis Australia had threatened to strip him of his accreditation, which set the American tennis legend off.
McEnroe takes exception to radio host
“As far as I know, that wasn’t threatened. Perhaps if there is more people like you, maybe they will reconsider it, I don’t know,” McEnroe said.
“You seem to have a view that you completely disagree and either subtly or forcefully you’re not agreeing with which is OK.
“It also sounds like you’re insinuating, to me at least, maybe I’m overreaching here but it seems like you’re looking at perhaps they (Tennis Australia) should do more.”
Mitchell took exception to McEnroe’s suggestion, stating that he has been a vocal supporter of gay marriage in Australia.
McEnroe then wrapped up the interview after only about two minutes.
“Listen mate, I’ve got a match in a little bit. It’s OK to disagree with me but you don’t have to try to like, you know, with the way you’re talking to me, it seems like you’re looking for trouble,” McEnroe said.
After some more short exchanges Mitchell said: “Enjoy the tennis and thank you very much for speaking to us” before McEnroe abruptly hung up.
Later on Thursday McEnroe appeared on the Today Show on Channel Nine (watch the video above) in which he sent a message to Court.
“What she said in the past, her comments, to me go over the line of what should be acceptable, in my opinion,” McEnroe said.
“I would say to Margaret that ‘you are a tremendous champion. You should be perfectly entitled to your beliefs.’
“But I would say that (she needs) a little bit more understanding about each and every person’s, you know, the way they live their lives.”