With Aryna Sabalenka and Novak Djokovic in action on Friday, day six of the French Open could once again see off-court issues grabbing the headlines despite both players having made clear their desire to put controversy in the rear-view mirror.
Sabalenka’s two matches so far have been overshadowed by the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the Belarusian refusing to answer questions about it in a press conference after beating compatriot Iryna Shymanovich on Wednesday.
The Australian Open champion was urged by her first-round opponent, Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk, to take a personal stand on the war and with Russian Kamilla Rakhimova up next, Sabalenka could once again have to address the issue.
Another match featuring political overtones is the clash between Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina and Russia’s Anna Blinkova.
Svitolina, who has called for all Russian and Belarusian tennis players to be banned from international competition, did not shake hands with Blinkova when the pair met at last week’s final at Strasbourg in which Svitolina emerged victorious.
In the men’s draw, Djokovic will also be looking to avoid discussion surrounding his statement this week that “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia”, as he continues his quest for a record 23rd Grand Slam title when he faces Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
Belgrade-born Djokovic wrote the message on a TV camera following his win over Aleksandar Kovacevic on Monday, after NATO peacekeeping soldiers were injured in clashes with Serb protesters in the northern Kosovo town of Zvecan, where Djokovic’s father grew up.