Nick Kyrgios believes only "a clown" would give Novak Djokovic a hard time at the Australian Open as the Serbian chases a major slice of tennis history.
It was Kyrgios who prominently came to Djokovic's defence when the nine-time champion at Melbourne Park was detained in an immigration facility and then deported ahead of last year's Australian Open due to his COVID-19 vaccination status.
The previously testy relationship between the pair has become increasingly friendly, to the point they will meet in a practice match at Rod Laver Arena on Friday, ahead of the season's first grand slam. That match sold out in a flash, reflecting the popularity of both men.
Kyrgios described their growing closeness as a "bromance" at Wimbledon last year, although Djokovic laughed off that label.
Djokovic, who has refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, will have many on his side over the coming fortnight as he chases a 10th grand slam in Australia and a 22nd overall, which would match Rafael Nadal's men's singles record.
Tournament director Craig Tiley has said anyone that boos Djokovic would risk being thrown out, while Kyrgios called for "respect" to be shown to the 35-year-old superstar.
Kyrgios described Djokovic as "the best that we've got", adding: "I would say, Novak's here and he hasn't made any rules. He's abided by them for the last two years or whatever.
"He's here and all he wants to do is put on a show. He's chasing things that athletes rarely are able to chase. He's one of the greatest athletes of all time, not just in the tennis court.
"I think as fans we should be appreciating that. I know there's going to be fans who are not wanting him to win, but I think they can't cross that line as fans.
"You guys have paid money to watch a guy play, it's a bit contradictory if you're going to go there and be a clown about it.
"You've got to respect him a little bit at the end of the day because he's one of the best who's ever done it."
Kyrgios has a 2-1 record against Djokovic, though both of his wins came back in 2017 and Djokovic won in four sets in their last meeting: the 2022 Wimbledon final.
Should they both win through the early rounds in the season's first grand slam, the draw is such that they could go head to head again in the quarter-finals.
Already, Kyrgios is talking about possibly abandoning doubles duty with Thanasi Kokkinakis in order to focus on singles.
He and Kokkinakis took the doubles title last year, but Kyrgios said on Thursday: "We're singles players at heart and the doubles grand slam last year was a flash in the pan.
"We haven't had one conversation about doubles yet. If we play, we play; if we don't, we don't."