'Djokovic is Darth Vader compared to Nadal and Federer'

6 days ago 16

Don't make Novak Djokovic angry. Because he probably wants you to do that.

Winding up the seven-time Wimbledon champion, as some Centre Court fans did by accident or design on Monday, seems to further fuel his insatiable desire for success.

The 37-year-old Serb accused fans of being disrespectful during his fourth-round win, claiming they used the bellowing of his opponent Holger Rune's surname as "an excuse to boo".

"If there were people in the crowd trying to antagonise him and wanted Rune to win - that's the worst thing you can do," former Wimbledon semi-finalist Tim Henman told BBC Sport.

"He loves the confrontation. He thrives off that energy. And he plays better.

"He destroyed Rune.

"If you want to try and upset Djokovic's performance you should just sit quietly."

On Wednesday, Djokovic returns to the same evening slot on Centre Court for his quarter-final against Australia's Alex de Minaur.

Henman thinks the crowd's reaction towards Djokovic will be "great" and believes Monday night's drama will not have any bearing on the atmosphere.

"At 37 years of age, and with what Djokovic has achieved, I love that passion and hunger and desire to win. It's brilliant," said the former British number one.

Over the years, we have often seen Djokovic feeding off negative energy to produce some of his finest tennis.

The 24-time Grand Slam champion is aiming to match old adversary Roger Federer's record of eight Wimbledon men's titles this week.

Being a rebel with a cause is how many believe he likes it.

Rune received strong backing in a 6-3 6-4 6-2 defeat, with fans enthusiastically cheering the 21-year-old Dane and elongating the first vowel in his surname as a show of vocal support.

Djokovic insisted it was a noise designed to wind him up.

He doubled down on his view even when on-court interviewer Rishi Persad countered with the logical explanation.

"I think he wants to hear the boos - that makes him play better," said former Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis.

"If I were to play him I would just give him compliments at the change of ends. I wouldn't want to annoy that guy, that's for sure."

Nenad Zimonjic, who has been described by Djokovic as an "older brother", presented a slightly different view.

Former Wimbledon doubles champion Zimonjic spent time as a Davis Cup team-mate of Djokovic and was also part of his coaching team earlier this year.

"I think he prefers when the crowd is for him," the 48-year-old Serb told BBC Sport.

"But he finds a way to use it the other way round as well."

Despite being the second most successful man in the Open era at the All England Club, Djokovic's relationship with the British crowd has blown hot and cold.

That is largely because of the popularity of the player he is trying to match on eight titles: Federer.

In the epic 2019 final when Djokovic beat Federer, the Serb had the majority of the crowd against him in an atmosphere which felt almost tribal.

Afterwards, Djokovic's former coach Boris Becker said there should have been more respect shown by the partisan crowd.

Two years ago, Djokovic was booed on Centre Court after he blew a kiss to fans following his semi-final win over Briton Cameron Norrie.

"The reality is, in Djokovic's world, the comparison is Federer," added Henman.

"Federer is one of the most popular athletes in the whole of sport and I think Djokovic has always craved that same level of attention.

"You can debate whether that will ever happen - it probably won't."

Djokovic has often tried going on the charm offensive.

The gesture of triumphantly throwing his heart to all corners of the court was designed to help Djokovic draw out the crowd's love.

Post-match interviews featuring witty, charismatic and respectful answers demonstrate the engaging side of his personality.

Occasionally, as we saw on Monday, he is still tipped over the edge by what he says is disrespect.

"I think for somebody who has been as successful as he is, he's still very confused as to why he doesn't get the love of the people the way that Federer and Nadal did," added former British number one Annabel Croft on BBC Radio 5 Live.

"I feel he deserves a lot more respect than he’s getting."

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