KRALJEVO, Serbia (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic praised the Serbia fans who gave Balkan rivals Croatia a warm welcome and applauded their national anthem at their Davis Cup first-round tie on Friday.
The hostility that normally exists when the bitter rivals meet in other team sports was nowhere to be seen as fans in the central Serbian city of Kraljevo gave the Croatians a red-carpet reception before Djokovic pulled it from under their feet.
The 27-year-old from Belgrade put the home side in the driving seat with a comfortable 6-3 6-2 6-4 defeat of Mate Delic and then heaped the accolades on a jam-packed arena where 3,000 fans roared him on with inflatable batons.
“We were very pleased when we heard the reception the fans gave to the Croatians and the respect they showed for their national anthem,” Djokovic told the International Tennis Federation after dismissing his opponent in 89 minutes.
“That’s something that you don’t see very often because the wounds of the war are still fresh and we are very happy with the way these people showed their support. They fully deserve to have this event.
“I enjoyed the atmosphere very much as I played for the first time in Kraljevo and this region in general. It was a full house and overall a very positive emotion.”
Croatia’s 18-year old prospect Borna Coric, who was recently described by Djokovic as a carbon copy of the Serb’s younger self, took the opening set against Viktor Troicki 6-4 in the day’s second singles match.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; editing by Toby Davis