Novak Djokovic is, quite possibly, the greatest tennis player of all time, but were he to fancy a change of a career, I have a suggestion.

Djokovic has made himself feel at home in Wimbledon over the past 19 years and I’m sure that the New Wimbledon Theatre on the Broadway would be interested in casting him as a pantomime villain in their next Christmas-time production. His crowd interactions skills are surely transferable from tennis to theatre, as his audition on Centre Court on Monday night made clear.

The Serbian star can rage against anything, be it real or fictitious. Were the crowd really booing him, as he insisted, or were the over-excited Danish fans just supporting Holger Rune with their “Ruuuuuuuuunne” shout? Does it even matter?

The incident served its purpose: to get Djokovic fired up, railing against the perceived injustice in full siege mentality mode. Rishi Pershad didn’t stand a chance, but fair play to him for putting forward the simple explanation behind the manufactured controversy.

“I am not accepting it,” Djokovic immediately shot back. “No no no. I know they were cheering for Rune but that’s an excuse to also boo. Listen, I have been on the tour for more than 20 years. I know all the tricks. I focus on the respectful people that pay for the ticket, and love tennis and appreciate the players. I played in much more hostile environments, trust me – you guys can’t touch me.”

He’s right, of course, Centre Court is hardly an intimidating atmosphere – most people are there to eat their strawberries, drink their Champagne, eye the celebrities in the royal box, clap politely, gasp at let cords and have a jolly old time. And he’s also right that they can’t touch him – seven Wimbledon men’s singles titles speak for themselves.

But while he insists their “disrespect” isn’t upsetting him, it would seem that the Wimbledon champion does protest too much. And his history gives away the real reason behind his words.

This isn’t the first time Djokovic has been rattled by the Centre Court crowd backing his opponent instead of him. “When the crowd is chanting ‘Roger,’ I hear ‘Novak,’” he said after beating Roger Federer in the classic 2019 final. “It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it’s like that.”

He was seen shushing the crowd during his win over Britain’s Jacob Fearnley in the second round last week and told British fans to “shut up" and "learn how to show respect" during his post-match interview at last year’s Davis Cup.

Djokovic has often spoken about how he feels disrespected – and it is true that coming in the wake of Federer, the clean-cut, handsome and polite Swiss with a gorgeous one-handed backhand, makes things more difficult. But his belief that there is some kind of conspiracy against him is plainly ridiculous.

The 37-year-old has given Wimbledon some of its greatest matches. He is respected. But, as he himself pointed out in his post-match press conference, they can vocalise their support however they choose. “They have the right to be there and cheer the way they want to cheer,” Djokovic said during a spiky exchange. “That's absolutely something they choose how they behave or how they choose to support the player is really up to them.”

Djokovic is a polarising character, undoubtedly. On the one hand he plays the pantomime villain, cupping his ear to the crowd, complaining to the umpire and speaking up about injustice. But behind the scenes he is well-liked by his opponents and cares deeply about the future of the sport, having sat on the player council.

If it takes an invented furore to get him going on court, that’s fine. As you revealed five years ago, you may have “convinced yourself that it’s like that.” But we’re not fooled Novak.

2024-07-09T10:51:43Z dg43tfdfdgfd