John McEnroe answers whether Novak Djokovic will ever be loved

Kevin Palmer
Novak Djokovic hushes crowd
Novak Djokovic in action

The tennis world will get the showdown it has been waiting for when world No 1 takes on 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic in Friday’s French Open semi-final – and John McEnroe believes the veteran will be spurred on by his doubters. 

Djokovic is closing on a record-breaking 23rd Grand Slam title and if he can get past Alcaraz in Friday, he will be a red-hot favourite to move ahead of Rafael Nadal in the list if all-time great major winners this weekend.

Yet despite his stunning success, the animosity that flows towards Djokovic from some tennis fans lingers, with some boos coming his way during this French Open from the Paris crowds.

The greats of the game tend to earn acclaim at the back end of their career, even if they have not always been popular throughout the early phase of their tennis story.

That is a scenario familiar to McEnroe, who was the bad boy of tennis for many years and he thinks it is a role Djokovic does not deserve now.

“He has taken some political stands recently that will cause issues and sometimes his attitude on the court (annoys fans),” said McEnroe at a Eurosport event.

“That kind of reaction from the fans fuels him. You want to have respect and love if possible, but he has handled the situation very well. He has been very mature about it and enjoyed a lot of success despite it all.

“Even when they are getting on him… he called he trainer the other day and he was getting booed. Everyone calls the trainer! It’s like they were looking for an excuse to get on him.

“I can relate to that. That part I can relate to. I deserved it more than he does, but he deals with it.

“He uses that problems and it helps to fuel him, so I give him a lot of credit for that.”

Alcaraz has been hailed as the outstanding favourite to win at Roland Garros, yet tennis legend McEnroe suggests that prediction will inspire the Sebrian great to down his younger rival.

While McEnroe insisted Djokovic has not been written off at the age of 36, he believes the desire to silence his doubters drive him on in Friday’s last-four clash.

“We have not written him off, of course not, but we are all anticipating Alcaraz v Djokovic now,” he added.

“It’s super exciting. Alcaraz is so electric and Djokovic is the most technically sounds player. He rises to the occasion and gets inspired when someone might have written him off or when he has a chance to make another amazing record. No one is writing him off, I can assure you.”

Meanwhile, Eurosport expert Mats Wilander has suggested Alcaraz can take his reputation to a new level by beating Djokovic.

“Carlos Alcaraz has lit the professional tennis world on fire,” said Wilander.

“People are talking about him more and more. Tactically he has been incredible without losing his identity on the tennis court. Sitting and watching him live is incredible.

“He comes from nowhere and smacks the forehand so hard that it’s nearly a lack of respect for the game itself. Also, his confidence is very high, that’s incredible.

“He is playing Novak Djokovic next and is coming out with these words, it’s different playing someone you’ve beaten a few times before but they haven’t played that many times. It’s just incredible. He is superhuman, there is hope for mankind when you see an athlete like Carlos Alcaraz.

“The crowd are going to be behind Novak Djokovic in the early stages I think.

“They believe Novak is the one that will need to put up a fight to be honest and he will be able to do that, he will find solutions for sure.

“Physically Novak is a genius but the speed Carlos has around the court is maybe even a little bit too much for Novak.”

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