By Shrivathsa Sridhar
PARIS (Reuters) -Stefanos Tsitsipas and Carlos Alcaraz cruised into the French Open third round on Wednesday, but all the focus was on Novak Djokovic as a political row sparked by the two-times Roland Garros champion intensified.
Djokovic remained the hot topic as the fallout from his statement this week that “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” continued before his 7-6(2) 6-0 6-3 second-round victory over Marton Fucsovics.
Unlike after his opening match on Monday, however, there was no message on the camera lens the Serbian signed and the 22-times Grand Slam champion looked to draw a line under the issue.
“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 told a news conference.
Djokovic missed last year’s Australian Open and was deported from the country due to being unvaccinated for COVID. He won the Melbourne title this year despite a row that erupted after his father posed with some fans holding Russian flags.
“A drama-free Grand Slam, I don’t think it can happen for me,” Djokovic added. “I guess that drives me, as well.”
Tsitsipas, chasing his first Grand Slam title, made a sluggish start to his campaign against Jiri Vesely but the fifth seed looked back to his best against Roberto Carballes Baena, as he overcame a wobble to beat the Spaniard 6-3 7-6(4) 6-2.
Top seed Alcaraz resumed his quest for a second Grand Slam title with a 6-1 3-6 6-1 6-2 win over Japan’s Taro Daniel on a windy afternoon to book a third-round date with Canadian 26th seed Denis Shapovalov.
Djokovic, however, remained the talk of Roland Garros. Kosovo Olympic authorities asked the International Olympic Committee to open disciplinary proceedings against him.
“Djokovic has yet again promoted the Serbian nationalists’ propaganda and used the sport platform to do so,” said Ismet Krasniqi, the president of Kosovo’s Olympic Committee.
“The further post-match statements made by such a public figure without any feeling of remorse directly result in raising the level of tension and violence between the two countries.”
France’s Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said the message sent by Djokovic was “not appropriate”, although the International Tennis Federation which governs the game globally said the world number three had not violated any rule.
Three-times quarter-finalist Elina Svitolina downed Australian Storm Hunter 2-6 6-3 6-1 and the Ukrainian then waded into the debate around Djokovic and said the world number three should have the right to express his opinion.
“If you stand for something, you think that this is the way, you should say,” Svitolina said.
Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka later beat compatriot Iryna Shymanovich 7-5 6-2 but the world number two refused to comment on the war in Ukraine.
The 25-year-old had been urged by her first-round opponent Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine to take a personal stand.
“I’ve got no comments to you,” she told a reporter who asked her specifically to condemn it.
Former champion Jelena Ostapenko had not reached the second week in Paris since 2017 and her disappointing run continued as unseeded American Peyton Stearns prevailed 6-3 1-6 6-2 in their second-round clash.
The feisty Latvian’s exit along with 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova’s defeat by Lesia Tsurenko means holder Iga Swiatek is the only remaining winner of the Suzanne Lenglen Cup in the women’s draw.
World number three Jessica Pegula, hoping to hoist her maiden Grand Slam trophy on the Parisian clay, advanced into the third round after her Italian opponent Camila Giorgi retired after losing the opening set 6-2.
Anna Blinkova dashed French hopes with a stunning 4-6 6-3 7-5 victory over fifth seed Caroline Garcia, wrapping up victory on her ninth match point.
Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis came through a rollercoaster clash against 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka with a 3-6 7-5 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3 victory and seventh seed Andrey Rublev beat Corentin Moutet 6-4 6-2 3-6 6-3.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris,Editing by Toby Davis and Ed Osmond)
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