Novak Djokovic has sent an ominous warning to his Australian Open rivals with a dominant start to his fourth-round clash with local hope Alex de Minaur.
But it was a fan’s sledge in the second set that provided the nine-time champion with all the motivation to get the job done.
WATCH IN THE VIDEO ABOVE: Djokovic sledged by Aus Open fan over vaccine.
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Djokovic was lining up to serve at 6-2 4-0 when a man could be heard asking ‘did you get a jab for your leg, Novak?’ – references to his COVID-19 vaccine status and a troublesome hamstring.
The unvaccinated Djokovic is back in Melbourne this summer after he was deported last year in a documentation saga that headed to court.
He remains one of the favourites to take out the title this weekend but the 35-year-old has been troubled by a hamstring injury.
With those two storylines in mind, Djokovic was targeted by a ticketholder as he waited to send down a second serve.
“Did you get a jab for your leg, Novak?” the man yelled.
Another spectator responded for the fan to ‘shut up’ while Djokovic stayed largely still, dropping his head slightly as he plotted the perfect response.
Novak Djokovic looks into the Rod Laver Arena grandstands.
Credit: Mark Kolbe
The Serbian smashed several heavy forehands at de Minaur during a point lost when one ball hit the net cord and bounced out.
The difference was already clear, however.
“He was going harder at his forehand (in that point),” Australian doubles great John Fitzgerald said in commentary.
“I think someone had a crack at him in the stands and I don’t think he appreciated it.
“He just let out a bit of vigour there on those forehands.”
After Djokovic took the second set 6-1, stats showed he had ripped forehands at an average topspin speed of 142km/h since the sledge, up from 130km/h.
The average topspin speed on his backhand jumped from 121km/h to 126km/h.
Djokovic rips a forehand against de Minaur.
Credit: Ng Han Guan
“Fitzy you were absolutely right,” commentator Mark Petchey said.
“After that call came out from the crowd there Novak’s forehand went up 12km/h and it went up 5km/h on the backhand side.
“Absolutely ripping the ball.”
Wally Masur added: “Don’t rattle his cage.”
Djokovic has largely received a warm welcome back to Melbourne despite the controversy over his deportation scandal.
Serbian fans have shown up in large numbers while Rod Laver Arena in general has shown little animosity, save for a group of Where’s Wally impersonators ejected late in his second-round match.
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