Novak Djokovic tries to put issue of Kosovo comments behind him at French Open
By HOWARD FENDRICH
PARIS (AP) Novak Djokovic sure seemed like someone ready to move on from the latest non-tennis issue he's been involved in during a Grand Slam tournament. Criticized after his previous match for comments about clashes in northern Kosovo between ethnic Serbs and NATO-led peacekeepers, the 22-time major champion stayed away from political matters on Wednesday night.
When his 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 victory over Marton Fucsovics in the second round of the French Open ended, Djokovic, a 36-year-old from Serbia, wrote on the lens of a TV camera - a custom at more and more tennis tournaments - and kept it simple, with an autograph and a smiley face.
It was quite different from what happened after his win Monday, when Djokovic drew attention for writing in Serbian, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” and then speaking out about the matter at a news conference with reporters from his home country.
That drew rebukes from a member of France's government, French Open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo and the Kosovo tennis federation.
Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera warned Djokovic on Wednesday morning not to wade into such international issues again at Roland Garros, saying his comments were “not appropriate.” Speaking on TV station France 2, Oudea-Castera said Mauresmo encouraged Djokovic and his entourage to maintain “neutrality” on the field of play.
Asked about Oudea-Castera and Mauresmo, Djokovic responded: “I have no more comment on that. I said what I needed to say.”
As for the underlying topic, Djokovic said: “Of course I’m aware that a lot of people would disagree, but it is what it is. It’s something that I stand for. So that’s all.”
This sort of thing is not exactly new for Djokovic. He did, after all, miss the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 2022 because he never received shots of the COVID-19 vaccine. When he returned to Australia this year, he faced questions about his father appearing with a group of people waving Russian flags - at least one showing an image of Vladimir Putin - outside the main stadium.
“Drama-free Grand Slam - I don’t think it can happen for me,” Djokovic said Wednesday. “You know, I guess that drives me, as well.”
He found plenty of tennis-related reasons to be bothered during the epic opening set against Fucsovics, which lasted 1 1/2 hours.
One issue was how hard, and how well, Fucsovics was walloping the ball early on. Another was how windy it was in the event’s main stadium, rippling the players’ shirts and whipping flags atop the arena until they twisted around their poles. That swirling air kicked up clay from the court, which led to another problem for Djokovic: shaky footing.
He would slip and slide and have trouble getting his feet planted properly. Djokovic asked the chair umpire for more clay to be added to the playing surface. Another complaint he had for the official was that breaks between games were being cut too short.
Still, it was Djokovic who was better when it mattered the most against Fucsovics, dominating the tiebreaker.
During the changeover after that set, Djokovic changed shirts, and TV cameras zoomed in on an object about the size of a bottle cap that appeared to be taped to his chest. It was not immediately clear what the item was.
When a reporter asked him about it, Djokovic avoided a direct answer and instead opted for sarcasm, saying: “When I was a kid I liked Iron Man a lot, so I try to impersonate Iron Man. My team delivers an incredibly efficient nanotechnology to help me deliver my best on the court, so that’s the biggest secret of my career. If it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.”
AP Sports Writer Sam Petrequin in Brussels contributed.
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Updated June 1, 2023