The umpire felt Novak Djokovic's fury during his latest win at the Australian Open, where he demanded a 'drunk' fan be removed from the stands.
The Serb's return to Melbourne always appeared likely to draw some scrutiny from the stands following last year's Covid-19 deportation debacle, and tensions spilled over at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday. Djokovic led Enzo Couacaud by two sets to one and was closing in on a third-round place when a group of overzealous fans dressed in 'Where's Wally' outfits proved too much to take.
“"You’re kidding me. You know who it is," the tennis legend shouted to umpire Fergus Murphy as he gestured towards the fan(s) in question. "The guy is drunk out of his mind! From the first point, he’s been provoking me.
Do you think Novak Djokovic was within his rights to demand the fans leave? Let us know in the comments section.
"He’s not here to watch tennis, he just wants to get in my head. You heard him at least 10 times; I heard him 50. What are you going to do about it? Get him out of the stadium.”
The former world No. 1 was eventually granted his wish as security stepped in to usher the perpetrator's out of the arena. Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley confirmed in the build-up to the competition that fans faced being booted out if they heckled Djokovic (or any player) during matches.
“If they disrupt the enjoyment of anyone else – boom, they are out,” he told the Herald Sun earlier in January. “We don’t want them on site. They can stay away or we will kick them out.”
It didn't disrupt Djokovic's rhythm enough to prevent his 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-0 win over Frenchman Couacaud, teeing up a third-round showdown against Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov. The nine-time Australian Open-winner is gunning for a record-extending 10th title at Melbourne Park, having rekindled his romance with the tournament following huge disappointment in 2022.
Former British No. 1 Laura Robson empathised with Djokovic's plight and suggested "everyone would be a bit frustrated with that level of heckling." The Australian Open holds a reputation as one of the rowdier Grand Slams on the circuit, but it was decided Thursday's taunts crossed a line.
“There’s not a huge distance between the people in the first couple of rows and the baseline," Robson told CNN. "And so that was what he was dealing with point after point and, eventually, it took until almost until the end of the match before they were kicked out, but you can understand the frustration.”
Later on Thursday, Scottish favourite Andy Murray endured the longest match of his career to overcome Thanasi Kokkinakis from two sets down and reach the third round in Melbourne for the first time since 2017. He and Djokovic could face off in the quarter-finals should both reach that stage, though Murray must first make his way past Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut and one more test before that dream matchup can materialise.