Sunday 22 April 2018

A tennis hero gives Serbia a good name shortly after Mladic sullied it

Irena Cvetkovic

Novak Djokovic’s inspiring win at Wimbledon at the weekend has given the Serbian people new hope and good press for a change.

For me, his win was akin to motherly pride.

I have followed Djokovic from his first tentative tennis steps to a world leader who was watched by 800 million people, including his family and the Serbian President.

But the whole of Serbia now feels like I do, I suspect.

And we tightly embrace this thrill to feel good as a nation – one that could produce a true hero and not just infamous ‘generals and war criminals’.

After the recent arrest of alleged war criminal Radko Mladic’s a few weeks ago, Serbia was again in the centre of world media attention when war and victims were evoked.

Serbs looked like the bad guys and generally the image of the county was overshadowed by the arrest.

But now the picture has been changed by a man who had dreamed to be the world’s best tennis player since he was 13.

And his story shows the positives that carried the troubled country of Serbia out of some of its worst times.

His heart is big; he is very emotional, outspoken, and has a self-deprecating sense of humour.

He is hungry to succeed and he can be nasty to his team – but he will hug and kiss them after the match.

Djokovic is loyal to both team and trainer and has been with them for five years.

There is also a charitable side to him - he is also helping people from Kosovo, where his father is from, as well same as victims from the disasters in Haiti and Japan.

And he is changing the world image of Serbia at a time when he is the idol of every child in the country.

Unlike in Britain, and other countries, the Serbian state does not financially support its tennis stars.

But maybe that is why some others are too comfortable and less competitive – and it is his stubbornness and determination that has made him number one.

This drive is evident in that fact that Djokovic practiced his craft during the three month bombing of Serbian during the war.

His father had to borrow money for his training, so he had a determination to do his best.

As a new line goes here in Serbia - Djokovic is accused of ‘gemocide’.

Mladic was arrested near my home town in Serbia well after I had moved to Ireland.

But all my years of tennis fanaticism and finger-crossing throughout the sleepless nights of Australian Open because of the time difference have paid off.

I have bothered my Irish friends so much about tennis and Djokovic has become a household name for them too.

But I was in Serbia at the weekend to see the win.

And so were a number of British who could not get tickets for Wimbledon and instead travelled to Belgrade to watch it and joined the happy Serbs who are now so proud of Djokovic.

At least they didn’t go to Spain!

When she’s not glued to tennis on TV, Irena Cvetkovic works with Athlone Community Radio.

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