Novak Djokovic offers help to Boris Becker in prison

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Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves in the Men's Singles Third Round match against Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia during Day Six of The 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on May 27, 2022 in Paris, France - GETTY IMAGES
Novak Djokovic of Serbia serves in the Men's Singles Third Round match against Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia during Day Six of The 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on May 27, 2022 in Paris, France - GETTY IMAGES

After his comfortable third-round victory at the French Open, world No 1 Novak Djokovic took time to express concern for Boris Becker – his former coach and mentor – and to reveal that he has been in touch with Becker’s son Noah to offer assistance.

Becker spent three seasons working on Djokovic’s support staff, from 2014 to 2016. In that time, he helped transform his client’s reputation from a shaky closer-out of tournaments into a cold-eyed winner.

The two men have remained in close touch ever since, and Djokovic described himself as “heartbroken” when the news first broke of Becker’s two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for concealing assets.

On Friday night, the subject came up again after Djokovic’s routine 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Aljaz Bedene, the Slovenian who spent a couple of years playing under the British flag but has now reverted to his original nationality.

Asked about the Becker situation, Djokovic replied, “Even when we stopped working, our relationship kept going in a right way. I have been in touch with one of his sons, Noah, and asking if there is something that I could do.”

Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros - REUTERS
Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros - REUTERS

Although Djokovic is due in London next month to defend his Wimbledon title, he will probably not be able to visit Becker, who was recently moved from the Category B prison at Wandsworth in south London to a more relaxed environment in Huntercombe, Oxfordshire.

This is thought to be a sign that Becker will shortly be deported to Germany – an experience that Djokovic himself encountered in Australia four months ago, albeit in very different circumstances.

“It's terrible,” said Djokovic. “I'm just very sad that someone I know so well, and of course someone that is a legend of our sport, is going through what he's going through. It's been only less than a month. We know how long he has to be there. So I just hope that he will stay healthy and strong.”

Djokovic was in talkative mood on Friday after his frictionless progress into the second week of this tournament, where he is due to play Diego Schwartzman – the 15th seed from Argentina – on Sunday.

The match against Bedene was so incident-free that a variety of other subjects surfaced at his post-match press conference, including the presence of former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in the crowd. “It positively affected me,” Djokovic said. “I had even more motivation to perform.”

Arsene Wenger was in the crowd at Roland Garros as was other football legends Clarence Seedorf second row R) and former French international Marcel Desailly (second row L) - SHUTTERSTOCK
Arsene Wenger was in the crowd at Roland Garros as was other football legends Clarence Seedorf second row R) and former French international Marcel Desailly (second row L) - SHUTTERSTOCK

And then there was the prickly issue of Australia, the nation where Djokovic has won nine of his 20 major titles. In January, he had his Australian visa cancelled in a row over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid. This automatically triggered a three-year ban from re-entering the country, although there are hopes that Anthony Albanese’s new Labor government could waive the penalty.

“In terms of the government, yes, I heard the news,” said Djokovic in relation to last weekend’s Australian election. “But I don't know anything about whether my visa is going to be reinstated or whether I'm going to be allowed to come back to Australia.

“I don't hold any grudges,” he added. “Look, you know, it was what it was. If I have an opportunity to go back to Australia and play a place where I made the biggest success in my career on grand slam, I would love to come back.”

Some inexplicable scheduling at Roland Garros on Friday meant that Djokovic and his old rival Rafael Nadal occupied very similar timeslots on the two main stadia, even though they are the tournament’s two biggest draw cards.

Nadal also swept past his third-round opponent, Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, in double-quick time to earn a crack at ninth seed Felix Auger Aliassime on Sunday.

This is an fascinating draw because Nadal’s uncle Toni has been coaching Auger Aliassime, a 21-year-old Canadian, for a little over a year. The two players haven’t faced off on a tennis court in that time, which gives an extra level of intrigue to their first encounter since 2019.

“I already talked with Toni after my match,” said Nadal after despatching van der Zandschulp by a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 scoreline.  “I know you guys are gonna ask the question, but for me it's very simple. He's my uncle. I don't think he will be able to want me to lose, without a doubt, but he's a professional and he's with another player.

“I don't know what's gonna happen, if he's gonna stay in the box or not, but I don't care. I have zero problem with that. So it's not a story at all for me.”

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