John McEnroe compares Novak Djokovic to Darth Vader as he serves up damning Wimbledon verdict

Kevin Palmer
John McEnroe on Novak Djokovic
John McEnroe on Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic’s spat with the Wimbledon crowd during his match against Holger Rune on Monday night continues to be a huge talking point and now tennis legend John McEnroe has given his verdict.

McEnroe was cast in the role Djokovic has got used to over the course of his career, as he was always the “bad boy” who took on the fans’ favourites at the game’s biggest tournaments.

So he is perfectly positioned to give his verdict on Djokovic’s latest spat with the Wimbledon fans, as he struck back after he thought they were booing him in the fourth-round match on Centre Court.

The spectators were, in fact, shouting their support for Djokovic’s opponents by screaming ‘Ruuunnneee’, which Djokovic believed were boos reserved for him.

While McEnroe accepts Djokovic got it wrong on this occasion as he was mistaken in his belief that jeers were flowing in his direction, the tennis legend told the BBC that his reaction stems from years of striving and failing to earn the respect and love of the wider tennis public.

Djokovic always struggled to win the popularity battle with his great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and when asked for his initial verdict on his decision to turn on the Wimbledon fans stemmed from years of frustration.

“He has been battling this for his whole career,” declared McEnroe. “Yes, he feeds off negative energy and yes I did feed off that at times, but I hated it in a way.

“Do you want people yelling against you, hoping you’ll lose, just because you’re so good they start pulling for the other guy for no reason other than you’re so good?

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“He is like the Darth Vader, but why? What has he done that is so bad?

“Okay, they are two of the greatest class acts we have seen in tennis, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who can compare to them in terms of what they have brought to the table and the way that people love them? Nobody. Then this guy Djokovic has the nerve to come in and break into the party.

“It’s like ‘how about respecting me in all this?’ Here’s a guy that had surgery a month ago, the odds are that 10 per cent that he wouldn’t play this tournament.

“He is thinking ‘I’m helping this tournament’, which he is, why don’t I get some love when I am playing a guy who is 15 in the world and hasn’t done a damn thing compared to him?

“So yes there were maybe a handful of Danish people going ‘Rune’ and I get that people want to see a good match, but you have to respect the greatness that you see. It’s easy to be the backseat driver now and let it go and (say) they weren’t doing that, but that’s what he has been dealing with for 10, 15, 20 years.”

McEnroe went on to salute Djokovic for standing up to the negativity he attracts, as he suggested tennis fans around the world need to show the most successful male tennis player of all-time more respect.

“I admire the guts that he had to say it there, that takes something because that’s in a way going to put more people against him,” he added. “He doesn’t deserve that at this stage, we need him and he has been too great for our game.

“How about we say they have gone too far the other way? Is it possible that maybe the fans in there have disrespected him?

“Don’t you think that there have been at least 100 matches over the course of the last 10 or 15 years where Novak Djokovic has been disrespected because of how good he is?

“Why? What has he done that has been that bad? Name something. What is it, that he wants it? That he competes as hard as anyone has ever competed on a tennis court? I just don’t get why, is it the look or where he is from?”

McEnroe went on to suggest Djokovic may have a tough time with the Centre Court crowd once again when he returns to action after his heated clash on Monday night.