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Djokovic Survives Scare from Popyrin, Overcomes Heckler to Advance at Australian Open

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Jan 17, 2024

Novak Djokovic faced his toughest test yet at this year’s Australian Open, needing four sets to defeat the unseeded Alexei Popyrin. The fiery affair also included a verbal altercation between Djokovic and a heckler in the stands.

Battle Between Djokovic and Popyrin Lives Up to Billing

The second round match between nine-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic and rising Australian star Alexei Popyrin captivated the Melbourne crowd and tennis world on Wednesday. Despite entering as the heavy favorite, Djokovic struggled to find his rhythm early and dropped the first set 6-4 to the hard-hitting Popyrin.

The Serbian star rebounded to claim the second and third sets, but it took Djokovic nearly three and a half hours to finally prevail 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(3).

“It was a great battle, a lot of exhausting rallies,” Djokovic said after the match. “Alexei definitely had a big chance. He was the better player for two sets. I was fortunate to come back.”

Popyrin matched Djokovic shot for shot, hammering groundstrokes with pace and depth. The 23-year-old Australian also fearlessly attacked Djokovic’s second serves, winning an impressive 71% of return points in the opening set.

Set Winner Loser Score
1 Popyrin Djokovic 6-4
2 Djokovic Popyrin 6-2
3 Djokovic Popyrin 6-3
4 Djokovic Popyrin 7-6(3)

Djokovic eventually elevated his level as the match wore on, showing trademark fight and mental resolve to escape danger. He delivered in the clutch by playing nearly flawless tiebreaker to capture the fourth set.

Still, Popyrin impressed with his explosive power and composure on the big stage. He appears poised to become a regular fixture in the second week of Majors moving forward.

Heckling Fan Draws Ire of Djokovic

Djokovic’s test on the court Wednesday wasn’t his only trial, as he also engaged in a verbal back-and-forth with a heckler during the second set.

As Djokovic prepared to serve at 4-2, a fan yelled out “Come on, hit it!”, which visibly irritated the Serbian. He stopped play to respond, saying “I’ll come find you after, trust me.”

After closing out the set, Djokovic indeed tried to confront the fan, motioning for him to come down to the court. When the spectator didn’t move, Djokovic called out:

“You don’t have the courage? Good. Are you the one screaming? Are you ready to talk now after you screamed?”

Security promptly approached the antagonistic fan and he was not heard from again. Djokovic received loud support from the Melbourne crowd after the odd incident.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion explained after the match that fans should have respect for the athletes competing.

“I am fine with people coming in and supporting a rival player. No problem. But there is a certain line that is drawn in terms of respect,” Djokovic stated.

While perhaps an unnecessary distraction, the confrontation didn’t seem to impact Djokovic’s focus ultimately. He continued his push to a 17th Australian Open quarterfinal appearance.

What This Means Moving Forward

It wasn’t the dominant performance many expected, but Djokovic showed his unmatched resolve and mental toughness yet again at Melbourne Park. He remains on track for a record-extending 10th Australian Open title.

His next opponent will be seventh-seeded Andrey Rublev, who cruised past Daniel Evans in straight sets. Djokovic owns a perfect 6-0 head-to-head record against the Russian.

While Djokovic isn’t displaying his exhilarating best form yet, writes Adam Zagoria for Forbes, his “champion’s resolve is carrying him through the draw thus far.” If Djokovic can ratchet up his level, a matchup with fourth seed Carlos Alcaraz could await in the semifinals.

Alcaraz moved smoothly into the third round on Wednesday, dispatching Mateo Berrettini in straight sets. The budding superstar continues to impress in Melbourne as he pursues his first major title.

Beyond Djokovic, Wednesday’s action saw several notable upsets on both the men’s and women’s sides. Sixth-seeded Ons Jabeur crashed out at the hands of 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva while former champion Caroline Wozniacki fell to Kaja Juvan is straight sets.

On the men’s side, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner booked spots in the third round along with the top two women’s seeds – Iga Swiatek and Jessica Pegula.

The final days of the second round and start of round three continues Thursday in Melbourne. All eyes will be on Djokovic as he aims to move closer to Grand Slam history once again.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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