Advertisement

McEnroe defends 'Darth Vader' Djokovic

John McEnroe praised Novak Djokovic for criticising the Wimbledon crowd, saying the Serb had been disrespected in his career at least 100 times.

The tennis legend said Djokovic's ability to deal with the "worst heat" is why he has become the greatest player of all time.

Djokovic spoke out against fans after his Wimbledon fourth-round win, claiming they used the bellowing of his opponent Holger Rune's surname as "an excuse to boo".

The 24-time Grand Slam champion insisted the noise - fans elongating the first vowel in Rune's surname - was designed to wind him up.

McEnroe, who won seven singles majors, agreed with the 37-year-old Serb.

Asked by presenter Clare Balding on BBC TV about what he would say to Djokovic, the 65-year-old American said it would be: "Well done."

McEnroe added: "Don't you think there's been at least 100 matches over the course of the last 10-15 years that Djokovic has been disrespected because of how good he is?

"What has he done that's so bad? Name something. What is it, he wants it? He competes as hard as anyone who's ever competed? Is it the look, where he's from?

"He's like the Darth Vader compared to two of the classiest acts we've seen play tennis - Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

"Who can compare to them in terms of what they brought to the table? Nobody - and then this guy Djokovic spoils the party.

"So then how about respecting him after all this?

"He's by far the guy who's taken the worst heat and that's why I would say he's the greatest that's ever played."

Djokovic wore a mask of the Darth Vader character, a villain from the Star Wars sci-fi films, for his walk-on to a match in 2012, recalling in 2022 how "that was myself in the crazy, young days".

'Djokovic thrives off the energy of confrontation'

For anyone intending to make Djokovic angry, there can be consequences. In fact, he might very well want you to do that.

Winding up the seven-time Wimbledon champion, as some Centre Court fans did by accident or design on Monday, seems to further fuel his insatiable desire for success.

"If there were people in the crowd trying to antagonise him and wanted Rune to win - that's the worst thing you can do," former Wimbledon semi-finalist Tim Henman told BBC Sport.

"He loves the confrontation. He thrives off that energy. And he plays better.

"He destroyed Rune.

"If you want to try and upset Djokovic's performance you should just sit quietly."

On Wednesday, Djokovic returns to the same evening slot on Centre Court for his quarter-final against Australia's Alex de Minaur.

Henman thinks the crowd's reaction towards Djokovic will be "great" and believes Monday night's drama will not have any bearing on the atmosphere.

"At 37 years of age, and with what Djokovic has achieved, I love that passion and hunger and desire to win. It's brilliant," said the former British number one.

Over the years, we have often seen Djokovic feeding off negative energy to produce some of his finest tennis.

Being a rebel with a cause is how many believe he likes it.

"I think he wants to hear the boos - that makes him play better," said former Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis.

"If I were to play him I would just give him compliments at the change of ends. I wouldn't want to annoy that guy, that's for sure."

Nenad Zimonjic, who has been described by Djokovic as an "older brother", presented a slightly different view.

Former Wimbledon doubles champion Zimonjic spent time as a Davis Cup team-mate of Djokovic and was also part of his coaching team earlier this year.

"I think he prefers when the crowd is for him," the 48-year-old Serb told BBC Sport.

"But he finds a way to use it the other way round as well."

Why doesn't Djokovic always feel the love?

Despite being the second most successful man in the Open era at the All England Club, Djokovic's relationship with the British crowd has blown hot and cold.

That is largely because of the popularity of the player he is trying to match on eight titles: Federer.

In the epic 2019 final when Djokovic beat Federer, the Serb had the majority of the crowd against him in an atmosphere which felt almost tribal.

Afterwards, Djokovic's former coach Boris Becker said there should have been more respect shown by the partisan crowd.

Two years ago, Djokovic was booed on Centre Court after he blew a kiss to fans following his semi-final win over Briton Cameron Norrie.

"The reality is, in Djokovic's world, the comparison is Federer," added Henman.

"Federer is one of the most popular athletes in the whole of sport and I think Djokovic has always craved that same level of attention.

"You can debate whether that will ever happen - it probably won't."

Djokovic has often tried going on the charm offensive.

The gesture of triumphantly throwing his heart to all corners of the court was designed to help Djokovic draw out the crowd's love.

Post-match interviews featuring witty, charismatic and respectful answers demonstrate the engaging side of his personality.

Occasionally, as we saw on Monday, he is still tipped over the edge by what he says is disrespect.

"I think for somebody who has been as successful as he is, he's still very confused as to why he doesn't get the love of the people the way that Federer and Nadal did," added former British number one Annabel Croft on BBC Radio 5 Live.