Iga Swiatek begins her bid to become the first woman in 16 years to successfully defend the French Open title on Tuesday as Novak Djokovic remained defiant after controversially weighing in on the Kosovo crisis.
World number one Swiatek, a two-time champion in Paris, faces Moldovan-born Cristina Bucsa of Spain as she looks to emulate Justine Henin, the last back-to-back women’s winner at Roland Garros in 2007.
The 21-year-old Pole arrives in Paris shrugging off a thigh injury suffered in Rome.
“Luckily nothing serious happened. I’ll be good for my first round. That’s the most important thing for me,” she said.
Also getting underway is world number two Daniil Medvedev who was buoyed by clinching his first ever clay court title at the prestigious Italian Open last week. It was also his fifth trophy of 2023.
The Russian has endured a bitter-sweet relationship with the French Open, losing in the first round in his first four visits. He ended that streak with a run to the quarter-finals in 2021.
The eccentric Medvedev faces former US Open junior champion Thiago Seyboth Wild, a Brazilian ranked 172 and who had to play the qualifiers.
Meanwhile, Djokovic insisted he does not fear being punished for his potentially explosive “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” message he scribbled on a courtside TV camera on Monday amid fresh violence in Kosovo.
The Belgrade-born superstar, chasing a record 23rd Grand Slam title in Paris, wrote the message in Serbian after his opening round victory over Aleksandar Kovacevic on the showpiece Philippe Chatrier Court.
“Kosovo is our cradle, our stronghold, centre of the most important things for our country,” 36-year-old Djokovic told Serb media.
His comments came after NATO-led peacekeepers dispersed Serb protesters who clashed with police in northern Kosovo to demand the removal of recently elected Albanian mayors.
Around 30 soldiers were injured during the clashes, along with over 50 demonstrators.
– ‘I have no remorse’ –
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. However, Serbs in Kosovo remain largely loyal to Belgrade, especially in the north, where they make up a majority and reject every move by Pristina to consolidate its control over the region.
“As a public figure but also a son of a man who was born in Kosovo I feel additional responsibility to express my support to our people and Serbia as a whole,” said Djokovic.
“I hear that there were many complaints on social media and from international journalists, saying someone would punish me but I have no remorse and would do it again as my stance is clear.
“But I am against war, violence and conflict of any kind and I have always publicly shown that.”
Djokovic was hailed in his native Serbia.
“A man of his word and integrity. He proved to be one many times over, and repeated it in Paris by doing something that raced the hearts of all Serbs,” commented the Alo tabloid newspaper.
On the court at Roland Garros early Tuesday, 16-year-old qualifier Mirra Andreeva marked her Grand Slam debut with a 56-minute 6-2, 6-1 victory over Alison Riske-Amritraj of the United States.
Andreeva, the youngest player in the tournament, has reached 143 in the world from 312 in April and hit the headlines at the Madrid Open earlier this month where she reached the last 16.
Later, fourth seed Casper Ruud, the runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year, faces Swedish qualifier Elias Ymer while sixth-ranked Holger Rune, a quarter-finalist on his debut in 2022, tackles Christopher Eubanks of the United States.
Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, the fourth seed, faces Czech teenager Brenda Fruhvirtova with 2022 runner-up Coco Gauff taking on Rebecca Masarova of Spain.