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Djokovic overcomes Popyrin scare and confronts heckler

Djokovic seals victory against Popyrin

Source/Australian Open

Novak Djokovic has overcome an almighty scare from Alexei Popyrin and a heated confrontation with a heckler to reach the Australian Open third round and keep his bid for a record 25th slam alive.

Precocious local talent Popyrin threatened to scupper Djokovic’s attempt to surpass Margaret Court when he had four set points in the third set in Wednesday’s match, but the champion saved them all on his way to a 6-3 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win.

Djokovic was combative in front of a pro-Popyrin crowd at Rod Laver Arena, including a confrontation with the heckler at 2-2 in the fourth set.

The Serbian star took issue with a comment from a spectator, approaching the stands to tell him to “come here and say it to my face”.

When asked what the heckler said, Djokovic quipped: “I mean, you don’t want to know.

“There was a lot of things that were being told to me on the court, particularly from that corner, and the same side the other corner.

“I was tolerating it for most of the match. At one point, I had enough, and I asked him whether he wants to come down and tell it to my face.

“When you confront somebody, unfortunately for him, he didn’t have the courage to come down. That’s what I was asking him.

“If you have courage, if you’re such a tough man, tough guy, come down and tell it to my face, and let’s have a discussion about it.

“He was apologising from far away. That’s all it is.”

Djokovic admitted the heckling upset him.

“I’m not going to sit and say it’s all good. It’s not good,” he said.

“Of course, it upsets me. I’m frustrated. I don’t want to be experiencing that, but I have to accept it as it is.

“Sometimes, I don’t tolerate when somebody crosses the line. That’s it. That’s what happened.

“People have a few drinks… I guess late at night as well, that probably also has an effect on how they feel and behave.

“That’s okay. People pay tickets to come and watch us. They want to see the show. They want to have fun. They’re allowed to do that.

“There’s no issue in terms of I never asked anyone to leave the stadium. I never asked the chair umpire to take somebody out.

“I wouldn’t do that because he paid his ticket, and he has the right to be there and say what he wants to say and behave how he wants to behave.

“But if somebody crosses the line, I’m going to take it to him, as I did to this guy, ask him if he wants to come closer and tell me what he wants to tell me — offend me, insult me as he did.”

Novak Djokovic embraces Alexei Popyrin after winning match point. Photo: Getty

Djokovic will face Argentina’s Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the third round.

He ground out the first set but Popyrin came out firing in the second set, brilliantly lobbing Djokovic to draw level.

Popyrin maintained his hot form early in the third, including nailing a breathtaking backhand lob.

He took a medical timeout to receive treatment on his left calf, but played on and earned his set points at 5-4, on Djokovic’s serve.

“He had quite an easy forehand (on set point) and he missed it,” Djokovic said of Popyrin’s chance to take a two-sets-to-one lead.

“I didn’t do anything special, I was lucky that point and that game to get away.

“He deserves a big round of applause for the performance tonight.”

Djokovic held, then claimed the tiebreak, before completing the victory in business-like fashion.

-AAP

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