Novak Djokovic stands by Kosovo comments despite rebuke from French sports minister

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images/Thomas Samson
Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images/Thomas Samson

By Molly McElwee in Paris

Novak Djokovic says it is impossible for him to have a “drama-free” grand slam tournament, after he sparked a political storm at Roland Garros for denying Kosovo’s independence.

The 22-time major champion mostly avoided controversy during his second-round win over Marton Fucsovics on Wednesday night, which became routine once he clinched the 87-minute opening set.

But earlier in the day, he was firmly in the centre of the drama in Paris. France’s sports minister called Djokovic’s comments on Kosovo “very militant” and “not appropriate” and the Kosovo Olympic authorities asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to open disciplinary proceedings against him.

The impact of Djokovic’s words were also being felt in Kosovo, where a mural of the tennis star was destroyed overnight on Wednesday. Located in a Serbian neighbourhood in the Kosovan town of Rahovec – which is surrounded by the majority ethnic Albanians – the black and white portrait of Djokovic’s face had been graffitied over until it was nearly unrecognisable.

It all follows Djokovic’s decision to scribble a nationalist slogan, “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”, onto a TV camera after his first match in Paris. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is recognised by 100 countries, but Belgrade has never done so.

Speaking after his 7-6 (7-2), 6-0, 6-3 win – after which he elected to write his signature and a smiley face on the camera lens this time – Djokovic doubled down on his sentiments, and added that the noise around his actions helped “drive” him.

“Well, I don’t mind saying that. I mean, I would say it again, but I don’t need to because you have my quotes if you want to reflect on that,” Djokovic, 36, 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. You know, drama-free grand slam, I don’t think it can happen for me. I guess that drives me, as well.”

The Kosovo Tennis Federation president had warned on Tuesday that Djokovic’s comments risked “inflaming” tensions in the region, despite his explicit calls for an end to the violence. In the past few days Serbian demonstrations turned violent in northern Kosovo over the installation of ethnically Albanian mayors in a disputed election, and dozens of Nato peacekeepers were injured.

Speaking to French public broadcaster France 2, France’s sports minister, former tennis player Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, condemned the tennis star’s comments about the political situation. “It’s a very militant message, very political,” Oudéa-Castéra said. “We really shouldn’t go down that road, especially given the circumstances. There’s a principle of neutrality on the field of play. It cannot happen again.”

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics, as it happened

10:21 PM

Who will Djokovic face next?

He will play Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Friday in the third round.

10:16 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 6-0, 6-3 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

The crowd wants a bit more tennis and are rallying behind Fucsovics at the moment. Can he give them what they want?

Good hustle again from Fucsovics to reach a Djokovic drop shot and he flicks a winner down the line, 30-15.

Tired looking double fault by Fucsovics, 30-30. That was his sixth of the match.

Brutal forehand return winner down the line by Djokovic, match point. Djokovic goes for it again with a forehand return but goes long.

Djokovic drags Fucsovics across the baseline and extracts the error, second match point. Fucsovics forehand into the tramlines. GAME SET MATCH DJOKOVIC!

10:11 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 6-0, 5-3 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Serving for the match and a place in the third round, Djokovic goes long with a forehand down the line, 15-30.

Fucsovics gets a look at Djokovic’s second serve but the Serbian’s kick serve is too much for him, 30-30.

Incredible hustle by Fucsovics to reach a Djokovic drop shot, then hit one of his own and Djokovic’s lob goes long, break point.

Djokovic forehand into the net, Fucsovics breaks.

Full credit to the Hungarian.

10:05 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 6-0, 5-2 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics tamely nets a backhand, 0-30. Stunning shot by Djokovic, he reaches a Fucsovics drop shot and slides in to hit a lovely angled winner, 15-40.

Fucsovics backhand into the net. Djokovic breaks.

It has been a good night’s work for the third seed.

10:02 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 6-0, 4-2 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Fully expect Djokovic to race away with this set now.

Djokovic hasn’t been at his best at times but his level has been too high for Fucsovics, who now looks like a beaten man.

Djokovic holds to 30 after a bruising forehand which Fucsovics can’t get back into play.

09:57 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 6-0, 3-2 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics backhand winner down the line, 15-15. Fucsovics double fault, 30-30. Important moment in the match now.

Wild Fucsovics overhead smash goes into the tramlines, break point. Fucsovics goes all out with a forehand down the line but the ball drops in the tramlines.

Djokovic breaks.

09:52 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 6-0, 2-2 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Delicate drop shot by Djokovic, beautifully judged, 30-0. Full repertoire of shots from Djokovic at the moment as he hits a volley on the stretch, 40-0.

Djokovic holds when Fucsovics nets a backhand.

09:48 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 6-0, 1-2 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics has found a second wind and gets to 40-15. Fucsovics forehand down the line, drops on the sideline and is called out but Djokovic looks at the mark and the decision is reversed.

Great service hold for Fucsovics.

09:45 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 6-0, 1-1 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

A couple of loose points by Djokovic, 0-30. On his back foot, Djokovic hits a ridiculous forehand winner, 15-30.

Deep forehand by Fucsovics and Djokovic nets a defensive backhand slice, two break points.

Djokovic attempts a serve and volley and Djokovic nets the half volley. Fucsovics breaks!

09:40 PM

Third Set: Djokovic* 7-6, 6-0, 1-0 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Only 31 minutes for Djokovic to take the second set compared to the 87 minute first set.

Djokovic dragging Fucsovics from pillar to post and extracting errors. Fucsovics double faults, 0-40.

Fucsovics sends a backhand down the line but the ball drops long.

Djokovic breaks.

09:34 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 6-0 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics gives himself some hope by forcing errors from Djokovic, 0-30. But loses control of the game with a couple of errors of his own, 30-30.

Fucsovics slices a backhand long, 40-30. Double fault by Djokovic takes this game to deuce.

Djokovic then nets a drop shot, break point. Blistering forehand winner by Djokovic, deuce.

Djokovic earns himself another set point and this time he takes it with a forehand down-the-line winner.

09:26 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 5-0 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Thou shall not pass Djokovic at the net, 30-15. Fucsovics nets another forehand, 30-30.

He needs this game to stop the bleeding. Fucsovics gets Djokovic on the back foot and finishes with a forehand winner, 40-30.

Brilliant drop shot by Djokovic, Fucsovics reaches it but can’t get the ball over the net, deuce. More wayward hitting from Fucsovics gives Djokovic a break point.

Too good from Djokovic, masterful attacking tennis and he finishes the point with a forehand winner into the corner.

Djokovic breaks for the third time.

09:19 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 4-0 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

More good fortune for Djokovic as his backhand hit the net cord and drop on Fucsovics’s side for the third time in this match, 15-15.

Djokovic double fault, 30-30. An opening for Fucsovics maybe?

Defensive slice into the net from Fucsovics, 40-30. Fucsovics misses with a backhand and Djokovic holds.

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Shutterstock/Teresa Suarez
Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Shutterstock/Teresa Suarez

09:14 PM

Djokovic* 7-6, 3-0 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Wild double fault by Fucsovics, 15-30. Break point Djokovic after another brutal rally.

Fucsovics forehand long and Djokovic breaks again.

Fucsovics’s spirit was broken by losing that first set.

09:10 PM

Djokovic 7-6, 2-0 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic is starting to stamp his authority on the match again. Hard to see Fucsovics replicating the level we saw for him in the first set.

Djokovic holds to Fucsovics’s defensive lob drops in the tramlines.

09:06 PM

Second Set: Djokovic* 7-6, 1-0 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Cameron Norrie’s match against Lucas Pouille earlier today lasted 107 mins if you want an indication of how long that set was.

Early chance for Djokovic to break and he gets it when Fucsovics nets a forehand. Ideal start for the Serbian, a deflating one for the Hungarian.

08:59 PM

Djokovic 7-6 Fucsovics - TIEBREAK

Ridiculous defensive lob by Djokovic lands on the baseline and Fucsovics sends his forehand long, 5-2. Clutch tennis by Djokovic to keep his nerve and hit a volley winner, 6-2.

Fucsovics forehand return long, 7-2. An 87-minute first set!

08:56 PM

Djokovic 6-6 Fucsovics - TIEBREAK

Djokovic finds the line with a forehand winner down the line, 1-0. Djokovic punishes a poor drop shot by Fucsovics with a backhand down the line winner, 2-0. Fucsovics forehand long, 3-0. Fucsovics’s turn to find the line with a backhand winner, 3-1. Fucsovics backhand long, 4-1. POINT OF THE MATCH. Incredible tennis from both players, longest rally of the match (33) and finished off with a forehand winner from Fucsovics, 4-2.

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images /Clive Mason
Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images /Clive Mason

08:50 PM

Djokovic* 6-6 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Djokovic comes out on top in a cat and mouse rally at the net, 0-15. Huge hitting by Fucsovics and Djokovic’s defences eventually break down, 15-15.

Major slice of luck for Djokovic as his return clips the net cord and drops on Fucsovics’s side. Djokovic looks to the heavens. Great response by Fucsovics as he finds a timely first serve, 30-30.

Fucsovics backhand into the net, set point Djokovic. Fucsovics gets up to the short ball and finishes with a forehand winner.

Incredible grit and determination from Fucsovics to hang on and force a tiebreak. You get the sense this is a must win set for Fucsovics.

08:39 PM

Djokovic 6-5 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Djokovic appears to get back on track by moving to 40-15. But he’s still frustrated with the mistakes he’s making at the moment and is taken to deuce by Fucsovics.

Djokovic berates his support box as he holds and guarantees himself a tiebreak.

Pressure back on Fucsovics.

08:34 PM

Djokovic* 5-5 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

10 points in row on serve, three games in a row and Fucsovics is well and truly in this match now.

08:30 PM

Djokovic 5-4 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Poorly executed drop shot Djokovic into the net, 0-15. He responds with an ace into the corner. Nice drop shot by Fucsovics, Djokovic gets there but can’t get his angled reply into play.

Wow, brilliant use of the slice from both players, Fucsovics attacks the net and finishes with backhand volley. Break point, Fucsovics.

Clever kick serve by Djokovic and Fucsovics sends his backhand return long. Djokovic backhand into the net, break point Fucsovics. Another long service game for Djokovic.

Djokovic double fault. Fucsovics finally breaks.

08:24 PM

Djokovic* 5-3 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Another nice drop shot winner from Fucsovics, 40-0. And he keeps himself in touching distance by sealing a love hold.

Djokovic to serve for the set next.

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images/Thomas Samson
Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Getty Images/Thomas Samson

08:21 PM

Latest update from Molly McElwee in Paris

Djokovic may be a break ahead in this first set, but he looks anything but comfortable. The windy conditions on Chatrier are tricky, the clay is blowing into his eyes and he complained to the umpire about it being too slippery during the last changeover.

He is not happy out there, and there is a vocal section of the crowd cheering every one of his errors.

08:20 PM

Djokovic 5-2 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Nice drop shot by Fucsovics to start the game after pushing Djokovic beyond the baseline. Fucsovics cracks a forehand straight at Djokovic at the net and the Serbian net, 0-30.

Djokovic backhand long and it’s three break points for Fucsovics. Djokovic saves the first with volley winner. Incredible angled forehand by Djokovic and Fucsovics nets his forehand reply.

Fucsovics backhand long, deuce. Really poor shot and more chances squandered.

Djokovic digs himself out of another hole to hold. He roars at his support box and walks to his chair.

08:14 PM

Djokovic* 4-2 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics moves to 30-15 with a forehand winner. But on the next point he nets an attempted forehand winner down the line.

Timely first serve by Fucsovics helps him to 40-30. Djokovic then shows his immense class with a lovely inside out forehand winner, deuce.

But credit to Fucsovics, he comes through a tricky game to hold serve.

Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
Novak Djokovic vs Marton Fucsovics live: French Open 2023 latest updates - Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach

08:07 PM

Djokovic 4-1 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics drills a cross court backhand winner past Djokovic, 15-30.

Djokovic then nets a backhand awkwardly, two break points. Fucsovics slices a backhand long, 30-40. Expect Djokovic to find a first serve on the next point.

He does, mixing it up with a kick serve and finishing with a backhand winner down the line, deuce.

Heavy gust of wind sends Djokovic’s sliced backhand long, third break point. Djokovic saves it again when Fucsovics nets a forehand return.

Djokovic forehand into the tramlines, fourth break point. Djokovic gets Fucsovics on the run and the Hungarian hits a desperate forehand down the line which finds the tramlines.

Djokovic is having to work very hard but he comes through to maintain his lead.

07:58 PM

Djokovic* 3-1 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

No easy points on serve for Fucsovics in the early stages. Djokovic is pushing him for everything and earns another break point.

Fucsovics keeps his head to hang on and get his first game of the match. That should boost his confidence.

07:48 PM

Djokovic 3-0 Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Beautifully done by Djokovic as he attacks the net and hits a backhand drop volley, 30-0.

Djokovic completes a love hold when Fucsovics nets a forehand return.

07:45 PM

Djokovic* 2-0 Fucsovics (*denotes next server)

Nice touch by Djokovic with a drop shot, Fucsovics gets there but can’t get the ball over the net, 0-15. Fucsovics forehand into the net, 0-30.

Fucsovics hits a quality wide first serve, gets a short reply and finishes the point with a forehand winner, 15-30.

Fucsovics overhits a forehand and gives Djokovic his first break point of the match. Wide kick second serve by Fucsovics and finishes with a forehand winner.

Second break point for Djokovic after a careless forehand error by Fucsovics. Great length by Djokovic and Fucsovics shanks a forehand.

Djokovic breaks.

07:39 PM

First Set: Novak Djokovic 1-0 Marton Fucsovics* (*denotes next server)

Fucsovics’ decision to put Djokovic in to serve first doesn’t work out the way he wanted as Djokovic races to 40-0 comfortably.

Fucsovics gets his first point of the match with a cute drop shot winner and earns a racket clap from Djokovic.

Djokovic then dominates the next rally and Fucsovics is forced to put up a defensive lob. And Djokovic hits a wild overhead long.

Boom. Huge forehand winner down the line by Fucsovics makes it deuce. But after six minutes, Djokovic finally comes through to hold serve.

07:29 PM

Here come the players

Fucsovics and Djokovic receive a warm reception from the crowd as they walk onto court.

Looks like Fucsovics won the toss and opted to receive first. Bold choice.

Plenty of empty seats on Philippe Chatrier.

07:20 PM

Norrie brushes aside Pouille

In case you missed it, the Britsh No 1 eased through to the third round this afternoon.

Get up to date with the match here.

07:15 PM

Shot of the day

07:11 PM

Not long to go

Djokovic is the headline act on the night session in Paris against Hungarian Marton Fucsovics.

Expect the players on court in around 10 minutes.

06:24 PM

Novak Djokovic courts controversy once again

Not for the first time Novak Djokovic is about to play a match and all the talk is about anything but his serve, forehand and all-court game.

The 22-time major winner - seeking a record 23rd slam success over these next two weeks - hasonce again courted controversy by scribbling a message about Kosovo on a camera lens after his first-round won over Aleksandar Kovacevic.

Following the straight-sets victory Djokovic wrote: “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia. Stop violence.”

Cue the predictable outcry and the now-equally predicable shrug of the shoulders from the Serbian, who, as seen with his Covid vaccine stance, is not one to back down.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Djokovic said that he thought what he wrote on the TV camera was “the least I could do. I feel responsibility as a public figure ... as well as a son of a man who was born in Kosovo.”

But that hasn’t stopped the French government from intervening. French Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said earlier today that Djokovic’s political message about Kosovo was “not appropriate” and warned the former top-ranked Serb player that he should not do it again.

Speaking on TV station France 2, Oudea-Castera said French Open director Amelie Mauresmo spoke with Djokovic and his entourage to insist on the principle of “neutrality” on the field of play.

“When it comes to defending human rights and bringing people together around universal values, a sportsperson is free to do so,” she said. But Oudea-Castera added that Djokovic’s message was “militant, very political” and “must not be repeated.”

Kosovo’s tennis federation said Tuesday that Djokovic’s comments were “deplorable” because he was stoking tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.

The International Tennis Federation has not opened a disciplinary case.

“We received a letter from Kosovo which we have answered,” said ITF president David Haggerty. “But essentially we have forwarded their letter to the French federation, to the French Open, it’s their tournament, and to the ATP who have the rules – the two of them together have the rules and regulations for the event.”

So all eyes will be on Djokovic this evening for any reaction to the furore as much trying to work out whether he’s in the sort of form to get his hands on a third Roland Garros title.

Stay here for all the action from Paris.