NOVAK Djokovic, who won a sixth Wimbledon and record-equalling 20th major last Sunday, is regarded as a beloved sports hero in both his native Serbia and throughout the former Yugoslavia.
Tennis fans and the general public in the region, tormented by a series of wars in the 1990s that accompanied Yugoslavia’s collapse, cheer for the Serb who is known for his humanitarian work as much as for his sports success.
Donations he made in 2014 to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, hit by catastrophic floods, as well as appeals to help them are still remembered. At the time Djokovic said on Twitter that his “heart breaks” when he sees how many people had to be evacuated due to floods in Bosnia.
“Long live all the people of former Yugoslavia. May God be with you,” he tweeted.
He made donations to Serbia to help fight the coronavirus pandemic but also donated ventilators to neighbouring Montenegro.
‘Represents us all’
“Nole’ represents us all, us Serbs, but also our neighbours Croats, Muslims, all,” said bank employee Kristina Popovic.
“He is always there for us which explains his popularity everywhere in the region,” the 27-year-old from Belgrade told AFP.
In Croatia and Bosnia, whose ties with Serbia remain tense since the 1990s wars, Djokovic is widely respected and liked.
For Semir Osmanagic, founder of Bosnia’s controversial Pyramid Park, visited by Djokovic three times since mid-2020, the tennis star has “achieved more on communication and understanding between people (in former Yugoslavia) than some politicians . . . who are mostly dividing us”.
Djokovic, who is known for his new-age spiritual interests, hailed the site, which large number of people believe has healing powers, as a “paradise on earth”.
Since Djokovic’s visits thousands of Serbs have flocked there, Osmanagic said.
His father Srdjan Djokovic said in 2020 that his son considered all countries that emerged after Yugoslavia’s break-up as his own.
“He never made any difference between them notably when there was a need to help people.”
‘Croatians are mine’
Croatia’s former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic is Djokovic’s coach while local media often highlight that his mother is of Croatian origins. – AFP.