Novak Djokovic branded French Open fans “disrespectful” after he beat Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in a thrilling third round 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 final 16 for the 14th consecutive year.
During an often troublesome afternoon, Djokovic drew fans’ ire when he took a medical time-out at the end of the second set for treatment of his left thigh after nearly three hours on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic, 36, a polarizing figure in tennis, gave the spectators a sarcastic applause and a thumbs up.
In the third set, he shot a ball into the air in frustration, which again resulted in laughter.
Djokovic mocked his tormentors by imitating their boos and nodding his head wearily in agreement.
“I think the majority of people come to enjoy tennis or to support one or the other player. But there are people who like to scold everything you do,” said Djokovic.
“I think that’s disrespectful and I honestly don’t understand that. But it’s their right. They paid for the ticket. They can do whatever they want.
“Actually I will be silent 99 percent of the time, but sometimes I will resist that because I feel that when someone is being disrespectful, they deserve to have an answer.”
Djokovic’s troubles with the notoriously hostile Paris crowd came a day after American player Taylor Fritz pressed his finger to his lips to silence fans after knocking out Arthur Rinderknech, the last remaining French player in the draw.
Fritz then blew kisses to the audience from Court Suzanne Lenglen.
– Support ‘up and down’ –
“Up and down,” Djokovic said when asked to describe his love-hate relationship with the Parisian public, who over the years have made no secret of their fondness for the now-retired Roger Federer and the absent Rafael Nadal.
On Friday, world number three Djokovic had to come back from a break in both opening sets to save a set point in the second after Davidovich Fokina failed to serve for the first.
Djokovic dropped serve five times in the match as Davidovich Fokina, a 2021 quarterfinalist, 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, came through the third set like a rocket.
“I knew it was going to be a tough and physical match. We only played three hours for the first two sets. I thought if I lost the second set we would play five hours,” said Djokovic.
“He’s a great fighter and there aren’t many weaknesses in his game.
“But a win is a win and I’m very proud of the way I played today.”
Next up for the former world number one is a duel with either Polish 13th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Peruvian Juan Pablo Varillas.
Djokovic was slow in the first set.
He recovered a tied break in the sixth game, only to be broken again in the 11th, his energetic temper not helped by a code violation for taking too long between points.
Davidovich-Fokina, who had beaten the Serb on clay in Monte Carlo last year, couldn’t make up for his second break of the set and Djokovic, suddenly awakened, claimed the tie-break from a blistering forehand service return.
The first set had lasted 85 minutes in which the former champion managed to achieve only eight winners.
The second set contained six service breaks before Davidovich Fokina lost a set point in the 12th game.
Djokovic claimed the breaker and roared to the crowd. Spectators booed him as he argued with the referee before calling medical time out.
He then stretched to a commanding 3-0 lead in the decider, briefly winning back the affection of some of the crowd as he helped his opponent after a nasty fall.