Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has sparked uproar at the French Open, with an inflammatory political message after his opening round victory at Roland Garros. The 22-time grand slam champion cruised into the second round with a 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-1) victory over American Aleksandar Kovacevic.
There were no real alarms for the third seed, who has struggled on clay so far this season after being troubled by a persistent elbow injury. However, the 36-year-old showed no indications that it was an issue as he maintained a stunning record of having not dropped a set in the opening round in Paris since 2010. Djokovic's one real blip came when he was broken serving for the match but the Serb responded with a strong tiebreak to book his spot in the next round.
'OUT OF THIS WORLD': Carlos Alcaraz in 'ridiculous' act at French Open
"I think I played really well and held things under control for two-and-a-half sets and then lost my serve and things got a little bit on a wrong side for me," Djokovic said. "But I managed to hold my nerves and played pretty much a perfect tiebreak. So overall I'm pleased and content with my level."
However, the two-time French Open champion then courted controversy after writing an inflammatory message on a camera lens moments after sealing victory. Djokovic risked fanning political tensions in his home region with a message about the independent state of Kosovo.
"Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence," his message on the camera lens read. Kosovo declared independence in 2008 but Serbia has never recognised that, with violence breaking out in the north of the country as recently as last weekend.
NATO peacekeepers were among those injured after ethnic Albanian mayors were installed in Serbian-dominated areas. Serbia has troops stationed near the border and there are fears of a return to the violent conflict of 1998-99.
Speaking to Serbian journalists in comments reported by the country's media, Djokovic, whose father was born in Kosovo, said: "I am not a politician, nor do I intend to enter into debates. "As a Serb, it hurts me what is happening in Kosovo. Our people have been expelled from the municipalities. This is the least I could do. As a public figure, I feel an obligation to show support for our people and all of Serbia.
"I hear there was a lot of criticism on social media. I don't know if someone will punish me or something like that, but I would do it again. I am against wars and conflicts of any kind. Kosovo is our heart, stronghold, the centre of the most important events, the biggest battle took place there, the most monasteries. There are many reasons why I wrote this."
As good as his intentions may have been, Djokovic's message sparked outrage around the world, with many insisting he should keep politics out of sport. Others were disgusted by Djokovic's notion that Kosovo was part of Serbia, considering it's an independent state.
Shame on you, Djokovic!
— Galina Uzunova 🇺🇦 (@Gal_Uzunova) May 29, 2023
@TheTennisLetter It is the pretence from Djokovic that needs to stop. The Serbs are not exactly timid victims in that area of conflict. Mostly Djokovic should not make political comments on the tour.
— eva kovacs (@budapestborn) May 29, 2023
It is good for Roland Garros to condemn Djokovic for political messages that incite hatred and violence, Roland Garros is not a tournament for messages that incite violence and hatred, but it is a sports tournament that must be respected.
— Jeton Gashi (@JetonnGashi) May 29, 2023
Djokovic should be disqualifiedfor this Kosovo is independent country recognize from France as well
— auris (@aurissb1) May 29, 2023
Djokovic stirring the pot. And yet so many say politics should stay out of sport... Oh well.
— Sofia Ayala M Galvão (@SofiaMGalvao) May 29, 2023
— Arianit Beqiri (@ArianitBeqiri) May 29, 2023
Djokovic, who is not expected to face any sanctions, is no stranger to controversy and he was dragged into a row at the Australian Open in January after his father Srdjan was pictured with pro-Russia demonstrators. The 22-time grand slam champion later insisted that his father was not in support of the pro-Russia demonstrators, but had unwittingly gotten wrapped up in a photo opportunity with them.
Carlos Alcaraz dazzles in thumping win
Elsewhere at the French Open, World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz booked his passage to the second round with a commanding 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 win against Flavio Cobolli. The 20-year-old Spaniard - considered the biggest threat to Djokovic's title hopes in Paris - dominated in a contest that contained an early contender for shot of the tournament, when Alcaraz fashioned a winner from an almost impossible angle near the net.
This is actually ridiculous even for Alcaraz’s standards pic.twitter.com/Hs0LiOW5JP
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) May 29, 2023
Meanwhile, Alex de Minaur ensured there will be four Aussie men in the second round at Roland Garros for the first time in 23 years, with a 6-1 5-7 6-1 6-3 triumph over Ilya Ivashka. With Thanasi Kokkinakis and Jason Kubler already into the second round, de Minaur matched his compatriots to soften the blows from defeats to compatriots Chris O'Connell and Alexei Popyrin.
With either Jordan Thompson or Max Purcell to progress after their all-Australian duel on Tuesday night, Australian tennis will be able to celebrate four first-round winning men, along with Storm Hunter in the women's draw.
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