Novak Djokovic, the world’s top tennis player who grew up in Belgrade as NATO air strikes blasted the Serbian capital in 1999, hit out Sunday at US plans to take military action against Syria.
NEW YORK: Tennis players rarely talk about international conflicts, preferring to play it safe by limiting their comments to serves and volleys.
But the possibility of air strikes against Syria has recalled some painful memories for Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic, who broke from their usual routine at the US Open to talk about their personal experiences with war.
Serb star Djokovic as well as former women’s No.1 Ana Ivanovic both vividly recall sheltering from the attacks that were launched against the rule of Serb hardman leader Slobodan Milosevic.
On Sunday, after winning his third round match at the U.S. Open, the world number one spoke about military strikes, recounting his experiences as a child.
Djokovic, 26, said that any attack against Syria would be ill-advised and counter-productive.
‘I’m totally against any kind of weapon, any kind of air strike, missile attack’.
“I’m totally against any kind of weapon, any kind of air strike, missile attack. I’m totally against anything that is destructive because I had this personal experience, I know it cannot bring any good to anybody,” said Djokovic.
“Those particular times that me and my fellow countrymen and colleagues from Serbia have been through is a period of life that we don’t wish anybody to experience. The war is the worst thing in life for humanity. Nobody really wins.”
Djokovic was only 12 when NATO unleashed its firestorm, although his sporting talents allowed him to eventually quit Serbia for Germany to enroll in a tennis academy.
“So we spent the whole day basically every day for two months on the tennis courts with the planes flying over our heads. After a week or two of the bombings, we just kind of moved on with our lives.
“We did everything we could and what we wanted. We just let life decide for us.”
World number one Djokovic, a six-time Grand Slam title winner, added: “It was not in our control. We were helpless basically. Luckily we all survived, and we take this kind of experience and this particular situation from our past as a great lesson in life.”
“The pool was old, leaking and too expensive to heat, so they emptied it, put carpet inside and made two tennis courts,” she said.
“It was impossible to play crosscourt. We had to keep playing down the lines.”
During the crisis, flights in and out of Belgrade were suspended as she and her parents had to make a seven-hour car journey to Hungary in order to fly to international tournaments.