McEnroe, himself a three-time champion at the All England Club, said on the BBC that Djokovic was “distracted” and the person who comes to mind in similar circumstances “is not a tennis player, it’s actually a golfer: Tiger Woods.”
Djokovic was asked about those comments several times at Wimbledon on Thursday after reaching the third round. He beat Adam Pavlasek 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
“I really don’t take anything personal. I always got along very well with John,” Djokovic said. “You know, I guess whether that’s his opinion or criticism or something else, I’m not really sure. But in the end of the day, I respect everything he says.”
Woods won 14 major golf titles but has not won since divorcing his wife. He said last month he was receiving professional help “to manage my medications.” That came a few weeks after he was charged with driving under the influence after police in Florida found him asleep at the wheel of his car at about 2 a.m.
McEnroe said: “Woods had the issues with his wife and then he seemed to go completely off the rails and has never been even close to being the same player.”
Djokovic won the last of his 12 majors at the 2016 French Open — his fourth Grand Slam title in a row. He has one child with his wife, Jelena.
“I really don’t take it in a negative way anyhow. It’s fine,” Djokovic said. “He has his right to say the things he wants to say. I don’t necessarily need to agree with that. But it’s his right.
“So I don’t know where was the basis, and he was just maybe making a comparison. I’m not really sure.”
Djokovic did posit a theory, however.
“When I was warming up for my first match on the Centre Court, he was giving an intro, talking to the camera, and I served and the serve went straight at him as I was playing,” Djokovic said. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of that. Maybe he thought it wasn’t a joke, and I was joking.”
It’s the second time in recent weeks that McEnroe’s mouth has created controversy. Last month, he was criticized after saying Serena Williams would be “like 700 in the world” if she played on the men’s circuit.
The match against Pavlasek was played on No. 1 Court, the same stadium where Djokovic lost to Sam Querrey in the third round last year. That was the first time the second-seeded Serb had lost at a major tournament in more than a year after his run of winning all four major tournaments in succession.
And the victory on Thursday came against one of his biggest fans.
Pavlasek, a 22-year-old Czech ranked 136th, turned pro in 2012 and said he has long tried to mirror his game after Djokovic, his “hero.”
“First of all, it makes me look old,” the 30-year-old Djokovic said. “But, yeah, it is definitely very nice to hear that I inspired him, you know, with my tennis and what I have done. Of course, it’s very flattering. I’m grateful for that.”
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)