BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – Forget about Kosovo, key elections or other Balkan troubles.

Three Serb tennis stars are in the semifinals at the Australian Open.

The likely loss of Kosovo and the possible return of a hardline Serbian regime has been overshadowed, at least for a little while, by the success of Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic at the Grand Slam.

“Serbs Rule in Australia” and “No One Can Stop Us Down Under” read the headlines on Wednesday, after many Serbs stayed up through the night to watch the three players’ matches from Melbourne on television.

“This is just amazing,” said Dragan Spasic, a university student who watched Djokovic beat fifth-seeded David Ferrer and Ivanovic defeat No. 8 Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. “If our bright tennis stars were not around, I don’t know what this troubled nation would have to cheer about.”

There was no morning rush hour in Belgrade because many people were late to work after watching the overnight matches. State TV news opened with the players’ victories, while online blogs were filled with jubilant comments about Serbia’s tennis success.

Serbia is likely to split from its cherished Kosovo province next month, while an ultra-nationalist president could possibly come to power.

President Boris Tadic, who is pro-West, faces rival Tomislav Nikolic in a Feb. 3 runoff election. Both men tried to be the first to publicly congratulate the Serbian tennis stars after their victories.

Djokovic has risen to No. 3 in the ATP rankings, while Ivanovic is at No. 3 and Jankovic No. 4 on the WTA tour. The three players have lifted the profile of tennis in a country where soccer, basketball and volleyball have long been the dominant sports.

Djokovic told the Beta news agency in Melbourne that he was proud the three Serbs had again reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam – the second time after the French Open last year.

“In our country, people are just getting used to tennis, and more and more youngsters are starting to play,” Djokovic said. “We have to build tennis centers, possibly after the elections and all those things.”


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