THREE years ago Novak Djokovic was the crowd's bogeyman here at the US Open after he failed to see the funny side of sarcastic comments by Andy Roddick, who had suggested that the Serb exaggerated his injuries. "They are already against me because they think I am faking everything," Djokovic said to jeers from the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium during a post-match interview.
How differently the crowd react to the world No 1 now. Djokovic mended bridges with some on-court jousting with John McEnroe two years ago and on Saturday night he endeared himself further with a dance routine at the end of his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Nikolay Davydenko, which earned a fourth-round meeting with Alexandr Dolgopolov, of Ukraine.
Djokovic said he had been inspired by the dancing of a spectator in the stands which had been shown on the big screen during one of the changeovers. "That guy was great," Djokovic said. "There's so much noise that you kind of sneak a peek at the big screen. He had an 'I love New York' shirt."
The Serb added: "I try to always bring positive energy to the people because I know they pay for tickets to come and watch all of us. You need to give them something in return. Obviously, you're playing your best, but still it's nice to have some interaction with your fans. It's really important. So I'm trying to do that.
"The New York crowd, especially in the night matches, is very special. They really get involved. They have a lot of fun. They're very loud. There's a lot of music in the changeovers. It's different from other Grand Slams. I think every Grand Slam has something special about it. Wimbledon is very quiet, all white. Here it's all about entertainment."
The entertainment during the third-round match was not bad either. Djokovic was given more of a test than in his first two contests, though he rarely looked in danger of not taking his record for the year to 60 victories and just two losses.
"I had some ups and downs," Djokovic said. "Look, it's the first test I think I had this tournament. Davydenko is a great player. He's been around for many years. He knows how to play on this stadium. He knows how to play majors. He went out there and played his game, very aggressive. I think I was a little too defensive at the start. When I needed to adjust, I did. I made the crucial breaks in each set."
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