Novak Djokovic started his bid for a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title with a straight-sets victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic in the French Open first round.
The two-time Roland Garros champion held off a late rally from his American opponent on Court Philippe Chatrier to clinch a 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 victory.
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He has still not lost in his opening match of a major since the 2006 Australian Open.
“I want to dominate whoever I play against regardless of the circumstances and who is across the net, but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” said Djokovic after kicking off his 19th consecutive French Open campaign.
It was after his opening round victory however that Djokovic caused a stir when he wrote a message on the lens of the TV camera as he walked off court.
“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop violence,” Djokovic wrote as the message was displayed on the big screen.
The situation in Kosovo has been increasingly fraught in recent times after Serbia put its military on high alert and announced troops were being sent to the border.
Earlier in the day, before Djokovic’s match, NATO peacekeeping soldiers were injured in clashes with Serbian protestors.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Social media went into a flurry with the message ruffling feathers in Serbia.
The 36-year-old addressed his message and the ongoing situation in his home country during his post-match press conference.
“I am not a politician and I have no intention of getting into political debates,” Djokovic said.
“As a Serb, it hurts me what is happening in Kosovo, our people have been expelled from the municipalities. I feel the responsibility as a public figure to show support, and I especially feel it as the son of a man who was born in Kosovo, This is the least I could do.
“I feel an obligation to show support for our people and all of Serbia. I think many do not know what the future holds for Kosovo, but it is important to show harmony in situations like this. 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 hearth, 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.”
The 22-time Grand Slam champ will face Hungarian Marton Fucsovics, who he has beaten four times in as many meetings, in the second round.
Djokovic is only seeded third at Roland Garros this year despite the absence of his great rival and 14-time winner Rafael Nadal through injury, behind world number one Carlos Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev.
He is tied with Nadal for most men’s Slam singles trophies and just one behind the 23 of Serena Williams. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.
Kovacevic, the world number 114 playing in his first Grand Slam match, battled hard but could not put Djokovic under sustained pressure until it was too late.
Djokovic eased through the first two sets, before Kovacevic did break for the first time in the match to level the third set at 3-3, only to drop serve again immediately.
Djokovic uncharacteristically stumbled when serving for the match as Kovacevic forced a tie-break to the delight of the crowd.
But the world number three quickly regrouped, dominating the breaker before ending Kovacevic’s resistance on his first match point with a thumping forehand return.
– with AFP