‘Say that to my face’ – Press Enterprise

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Already sick and tired in another early round slog, Novak Djokovic unloaded on a heckler who crossed the line at the Australian Open.

Defending champion Djokovic angrily challenged the spectator to “say that to my face” and gestured to the man to come down onto the Rod Laver Arena court, the venue for 10 of his record 24 Grand Slam titles.

He then went on a roll, winning three straight games from 2-2 in the fourth set before finishing off Alexei Popyrin 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4) 6-3.

The 36-year-old Serb then turned to the crowd again and yelled, pumping his fist to celebrate the victory.

Asked later what triggered his rage, Djokovic responded: “I mean, you don’t want to know.”

“I was tolerating it for most of the match. At one point I had enough,” he said. “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.’”

That didn’t happen. Djokovic didn’t ask for the man to be removed. Stadium security didn’t intervene.

Djokovic moved on to the third round, still simmering a little bit about the episode.

“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.”

Djokovic has been dealing with a sore wrist and said after his opening match — a four-hour, four-set win over 18-year-old qualifier Dino Prizmic — that he hasn’t been well. He was struggling against Popyrin, who is ranked 43rd.

So, was it the kind of spark that he needed?

“Look, I don’t want to be in those types of situations. Yeah, I was flat I guess emotionally. Game-wise I was quite flat,” he said. “Maybe that was needed for me to be shaken up a bit and start to find the kind of intensity that I needed to have all match.”

Last year’s losing finalist, Stefanos Tsitsipas, also had a tough time against an Aussie with the crowd behind him on an adjacent court.

Tsitsipas wasted match points in the 10th game of the fourth set and then had to save four set points to force a tiebreaker, which he clinched for a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (4) win over Jordan Thompson.

Women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka and U.S. Open winner Coco Gauff avoided the early Day 4 upsets in their draw to advance to the third round, along with 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva.

Three-time major finalist Ons Jabeur lost 6-0, 6-2 in 54 minutes to Andreeva on Rod Laver, and then 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki also lost to a young Russian on the No. 3 show court.

Two other 16-year-old players lost on center court to highly-ranked players: No. 10 Beatriz Haddad Maia accounted for Alina Korneeva 6-1, 6-2 and Sabalenka overpowered Brenda Fruhvirtova 6-3, 6-2.

Gauff, still a teenager herself, extended her winning streak to nine matches at Grand Slams with a 7-6 (2), 6-2 win over fellow American Caroline Dolehide.

She’ll next play Alycia Parks, who beat 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez 7-5, 6-4.

Sixth-seeded Jabeur went out in 54 minutes against the up-and-coming Andreeva.

“I was really nervous before the match because I’m really inspired by Ons and the way she plays,” said Andreeva, who lost in the junior final here last year. “Before I started on the WTA Tour, I always watched her matches and was always so inspired.”

Wozniacki, who had two children before returning to the tour late last year after 3 1-2 years away, led by a set and a break before losing 1-6, 6-4, 6-1 to 20-year-old Maria Timofeeva.

Amanda Anisimova, coming back from a seven-month mental health break, beat Nadia Podoroska to move onto a match against Paula Badosa.

No. 8 Maria Sakkari, No. 16 Caroline Garcia and No. 25 Elise Mertens didn’t make it past the second round.

On the men’s side, No. 4 Jannick Sinner, No. 5 Andrey Rublev and No. 10 Alex de Minaur — Australia’s highest-ranked player — advanced in straight sets and progressed along with No. 12 Taylor Fritz, No. 15 Karen Khachanov and U.S. Open semifinalist Ben Shelton, the No. 16 seed, who had a 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (5) over local hope Chris O’Connell.

A quarterfinalist on debut here last year, Shelton said he enjoyed the atmosphere and the support that the home crowd gave O’Connell and said he could still hear “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi” in his sleep.

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