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Novak Djokovic in action. Alamy Stock Photo

Novak Djokovic says 'it's what I stand for' in Kosovo row

He will next face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for a fourth-round place on tomorrow.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC defiantly insisted on Wednesday “it’s something I stand for” regarding the controversy over his explosive comments about Kosovo earlier this week at the French Open.

On Monday, the 22-time Grand Slam champion wrote “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence” on a TV camera after his first match at Roland Garros.

“I would say it again, but I don’t need to because you have my quotes,” he said after making the third round on Wednesday with a straight sets win over Marton Fucsovics.

“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.”

Djokovic had defended his message in comments to Serb media, saying that Kosovo is Serbia’s “cradle, our stronghold”.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), the governing body of the sport, said they had received a request from the Kosovo Tennis Federation demanding Djokovic be sanctioned over his actions.

However, they pointed out that such statements do not contravene regulations.

“Rules for player conduct at a Grand Slam event are governed by the Grand Slam rulebook, administered by the relevant organiser and regulator. There is no provision in this that prohibits political statements,” an ITF spokesman told AFP.

Djokovic was criticised for his comments about recent clashes in Kosovo by French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera who said he “shouldn’t get involved”.

Oudea-Castera told broadcaster France 2 that Djokovic’s message was “not appropriate, clearly”.

“It was a message that is very activist, that is very political.”

The Kosovo Olympic Committee (KOC) accused Djokovic of “stirring up” political tensions, a spokesman told AFP.

Djokovic “breached the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter regarding political neutrality and involved yet another political statement in sports”, the KOC wrote in a letter sent to the IOC on Tuesday.

KOC head Ismet Krasniqi sought that the IOC initiates disciplinary proceedings against Djokovic, said the letter posted on its Facebook.

Such “behaviour cannot be tolerated as it sets a dangerous precedent that sports can be used as a platform for political messages, agendas and propaganda”, the letter quoted Krasniqi as saying.

Ukrainian player Elina Svitolina said Djokovic should be free to “say his opinion”.

Svitolina, who has repeatedly spoken out over tennis’ response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, believes players should be able to talk publicly about political issues.

“We are living in the free world, so why not say your opinion on something?,” said Svitolina.

“I feel like if you stand for something, you think that this is the way, you should say.

“I mean, if you are with a friend sitting, talking, you’re going to say your opinion, he is going to say his opinion. So why not?”

Thirty peacekeepers from a NATO-led force in Kosovo were injured in clashes with ethnic Serb demonstrators on Monday during protests about the installation of ethnic Albanian mayors in northern Kosovo.

Kosovo, mostly populated by Muslim ethnic Albanians, broke away from the then-Yugoslavia in the late 1990s and declared independence in 2008, in a move that has never been accepted by neighbouring Christian-majority Serbia or its ally Russia.

On the court, he brushed aside the furore surrounding his comments about clashes in Kosovo by easing into the French Open third round with a straight-sets win over Marton Fucsovics.

Djokovic, who is chasing a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros, came through a marathon first set against Hungarian Fucsovics before prevailing 7-6 (7/2), 6-0, 6-3 in the night session on Court Philippe Chatrier.

He will next face Spanish 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina for a fourth-round place on Friday.

There was plenty of drama during an 87-minute opening set which saw Djokovic broken while he was serving for it.

But eight previous break points saved proved key for the third seed as he went on to dominate a tie-break.

World number 83 Fucsovics could not maintain his level, though, as the 36-year-old Djokovic raced through the next seven games.

Fucsovics rallied by breaking back early in the third set and again when Djokovic served for the match.

But Djokovic wrapped up victory in the next game on his second match point.

The Serb has still not failed to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2017 Australian Open.

– © AFP 2023

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