French Open

No. 1 Alcaraz crushes French Open opener, Djokovic stirs issue anew in own rout


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No. 1 Alcaraz crushes French Open opener, Djokovic stirs issue anew in own rout

OUTSPOKEN. Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his first round match against Aleksandar Kovacevic of the U.S. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


Tennis world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Novak Djokovic breeze past their French Open debuts, with the latter taking the time to make a stand against protest violence in hometown Kosovo

Novak Djokovic launched his quest for a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam singles title with a no-nonsense 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (1) win over debutant Aleksandar Kovacevic in the opening round of the French Open on Monday (Tuesday, May 30, Manila time).

World number one Carlos Alcaraz also came through with flying colours as the Spaniard crushed Italian qualifier Flavio Cobolli 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 in his first Grand Slam match since winning the US Open title last year.

Twice Roland Garros champion Djokovic breezed through the first two sets before encountering resistance from the 24-year-old American whose lack of experience then showed in the tiebreak on the world’s biggest clay court.

Djokovic ended the contest with a sizzling service return on his first match point and will face Hungarian journeyman Marton Fucsovics for a place in the third round.

“It’s always a pleasure to come back here, one of the best tournaments in the world,” said Djokovic, who made his Roland Garros debut in 2005.

“I’m very motivated to go far here, all the way I hope.”

Djokovic did not have an ideal build-up to the claycourt Grand Slam, missing the Madrid Masters and being eliminated in the last eight in Rome, but he looked in good form in windy conditions.

He also risked stirring up a political controversy after writing a message about Kosovo on a camera lens following his first-round victory.

“Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop the violence,” 22-time Grand Slam champion Djokovic wrote in Serbian.

Some 30 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serbs protesters in the town of Zvecan, where Djokovic’s father grew up. Serbian authorities said 52 protesters were injured in clashes.

The tense situation developed after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb-majority area after elections the Serbs boycotted – a move that led the U.S. and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.

Serbs, who comprise a majority in Kosovo’s north, have never accepted its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.

“As a son of a man born in Kosovo, I feel the need to give my support to our people and to entire Serbia,” Djokovic told a news briefing on Monday after his match at the Roland Garros tournament.

“My stance is clear: I am against wars, violence and any kind of conflict, as I’ve always stated publicly. I empathise with all people, but the situation with Kosovo is a precedent in international law,” Djokovic said.

The French tennis federation (FFT), which organises the event, told Reuters that there were “no official Grand Slam rules on what players can or cannot say. The FFT will not be making any statement or taking any stance on this matter.”

Djokovic will hope to avoid another political distraction at a Grand Slam after he defended his father at the Australian Open in January, when a video emerged showing him posing with some fans holding Russian flags amid the war in Ukraine.

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