Novak Djokovic only seems to grow in confidence and strength when he is faced with booing, jeering and heckling from spectators.
It’s certainly an unusual trait. A lot of players would crumble under the pressure but the world No.1 is able to take the negative energy and use it to his advantage.
We’ve seen it time and time again. And it appears to be becoming more of a regular occurrence in the twilight years of the 36-year-old’s illustrious career.
The Serbian is currently defending his title at the Australian Open as he continues his quest to land a historic 25th Grand Slam singles trophy.
Of all the places in tennis, you would think Melbourne Park would be one of the least likely locations for Djokovic to receive abuse from the crowd.
Djokovic has lifted a record 10 men’s singles titles there, entertaining Australian fans for over a decade.
But Djokovic has had a few disputes with spectators this year with one individual screaming at him to ‘get vaccinated’ during his win over Tomas Martin Etcheverry.
Djokovic responded with an ace on match point to close out his Argentine opponent in straight sets.
In his second-round victory over Alexei Popyrin, Djokovic was locked in a heated argument with another fan and called him out in his post-match interview.
‘What really frustrates me is when someone is heckling,’ Djokovic said. ‘I confront hecklers. I invited the guy to come and say it to my face.
‘He was then apologising and there is an absence of courage when he has to face me.’
Nick Kyrgios, watching the incident unfold on Eurosport, said: ‘He’s got extra motivation now. You don’t want to poke the bear.’
So why is it that Djokovic goes up a level when he is met with boos, heckles and jeers?
‘Novak has trained himself to feed off negativity,’ explains renowned sports psychologist Martin Perry via SportsBoom.com.
‘Provocation. Needle. Rather like Michael Jordan used to do. Provoking opponents to get that edge over them.
‘Djokovic can play at a high level without needle. But the needle triggers an inner fire that powers motivation, will, belief, and an attitude that is unstoppable.’
Perry believes that Djokovic may experience an increase in psychological and physiological arousal when faced with heckling.
‘It depends on their own zone of optimal functioning whether that impacts them negatively or positively,’ he added.
‘Tennis is a single focus concentration game. If it was team tennis, then the noise would add to it. But the single focus creates a bubble of concentration that is based on silence. So, when the silence is broken, it sounds intrusive.
‘Novak can create that quietness, himself as a player. He has trained himself to thrive in the singular quiet of tennis, turning disruptions into a source of inner strength.’