Fans jeered Djokovic during his third-round victory against 29th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina at Roland Garros on Friday for seemingly no reason.
Novak Djokovic makes no secret of his desire to capitalise on criticism during a tennis match. It makes no difference whether he’s up or behind on the scoreboard. The individual just derives energy and inspiration from many slights, both real and perceived.
Perhaps it’s the way a chair umpire officiates on that particular day… or the way Djokovic’s entourage sits in the bleachers instead of standing to cheer him… or the criticism he receives for becoming involved in a political issue – all of which have already occurred during this French Open.
Perhaps it’s how he’s treated by the crowds, who, as they did on Friday during Djokovic’s 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-2 win against 29th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the third round at Roland Garros, get on his case and jeer him for virtually no reason at all.
Which is exactly what transpired on Court Philippe Chatrier during the longest three-set Grand Slam match of Djokovic’s 22-year career, clocking in at 3 hours, 36 minutes. He wasn’t happy with how difficult the match had been, he didn’t appreciate double-faulting three times in a single game, and he didn’t like the comments from some of the supporters.
“The vast majority of people come to watch tennis or to cheer on one of the players.” They are, nonetheless, people. There are folks — or groups of people — who love to boo everything you do. “I find that disrespectful, and I honestly don’t understand it,” Djokovic added later during his press conference. “However, it is their right. They bought the ticket. They are free to do anything they choose.”
Djokovic took control after being two points away from losing the second set, trailing 5-4 in the tiebreaker. He won the following three points, each of which concluded with a mistake by Davidovich Fokina, before taking a few strides towards the sideline and reacting by striking the air, turning around, delivering an uppercut, raising his right fist aloft, and yelling.
Some people in the audience reacted negatively to this. The chair umpire indicated his unhappiness with him again a minute later, when he declared that Djokovic was taking a medical stoppage as a trainer massaged his upper left leg.
Djokovic, who was sitting in his chair with his shirt off and a white towel wrapped around his shoulders, heard the criticism and replied with motions. He motioned with his hand as if to say, “Give me more!” He nodded and offered a sarcastic thumbs up. He clapped. He grinned and shook his head.
“You know, there are occasions when I will remain silent. Not ‘at times’ – honestly, 99% of the time, I will be quiet,” said Djokovic, who won the French Open in 2016 and 2021 and, in addition to chasing a 23rd major title to break his tie with Rafael Nadal, may become the first man to win at all four Slams. “Sometimes I will oppose that because I believe that when someone is disrespectful, he or she deserves an answer.” That is the crux of the matter.”
Other ranked players progressing included No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who finished second to Djokovic in Paris two years ago and at the Australian Open this year, No. 11 Karen Khachanov, and No. 17 Lorenzo Musetti, who defeated No. 14 Cam Norrie. In the last match of the night, Lorenzo Sonego upset No. 7 Andrey Rublev, while Juan Pablo Varillas defeated No. 13 Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-2.
In the night session, Alcaraz defeated No. 26 Denis Shapovalov 6-1, 6-4, 6-2. After falling down 4-1 in the second set — “I was in trouble,” Alcaraz admitted — the reigning US Open winner won seven straight games to seize control for good.
He’ll next face Musetti, who beat him in their only previous meeting, while Djokovic faces Varillas, a 27-year-old Peruvian who is ranked 94th and has never won a Grand Slam match until this week.
No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 9 Daria Kasatkina advanced to the fourth round of the women’s tournament, as did Sloane Stephens, Elina Svitolina, and 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while No. 3 Jessica Pegula was eliminated.
After a 6-1, 6-3 loss to Elise Mertens, Pegula hastily packed her bags and marched out of the main stadium, an earlier exit than the American has become accustomed to at Grand Slam tournaments recently.
Pegula has reached the quarterfinals of four of the last five majors, including Roland Garros a year ago.
She’s never advanced past that level at a Grand Slam and never really got into her match against the 28th-seeded Mertens on a day with a breeze of about 10 mph (15 kph) and a temperature in the low 60s Fahrenheit (low teens Celsius).
“I still felt like I was playing good points.” Elise was just being difficult, not making many mistakes and having me play every single ball,” said Pegula, whose parents control the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. “And with the windy conditions, I definitely felt like it played into her game.”
Four of the top ten women’s seeds are already out, with Pegula joining No. 5 Caroline Garcia, No. 8 Maria Sakkari, and No. 10 Petra Kvitova on the sidelines. This year’s Roland Garros saw just 12 seeds go through the first round, the fewest in Paris since the field was enlarged to 32 seeds in 2002.