- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Top-ranked tennis star Novak Djokovic has a new title - goodwill ambassador for the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF.

The world No. 1 men’s player has worked on children’s issues for UNICEF in his native Serbia since 2011. UNICEF has now appointed him a global goodwill ambassador.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt said Wednesday Djokovic’s new job recognized his work in Serbia to improve the lives, particularly of marginalized children, and to promote early childhood education.

“Novak Djokovic is a true champion for children around the world,” she said. “He has shown that a powerful voice and powerful actions can make a difference for children, especially when they are very young.”

Djokovic grew up in Serbia during the Balkan wars and became a top tennis player there. He has gone on to win nine tennis majors and is considered one of the sport’s all-time greatest players. He is a favorite to win New York’s U.S. Open, which begins next week.

Djokovic said he is honored to be a UNICEF goodwill ambassador “and to continue to help defend and uphold children’s rights.”

“The early years of life are crucial,” Djokovic said. “When well nurtured and cared for in their earliest years, children are more likely to survive, to grow in a healthy way … and become productive and successful citizens of society.”

Djokovic joins a VIP list of UNICEF goodwill ambassadors that has included entertainers Danny Kaye, Audrey Hepburn, Katy Perry, Sir Roger Moore and Shakira, soccer star David Beckham and women’s tennis star Serena Williams.

Djokovic also signed a memorandum of understanding at a Monday ceremony between the Novak Djokovic Foundation and the World Bank on how the two institutions can partner more closely to promote early childhood development.

In 2014, Djokovic sparked worldwide financial and media support for victims of massive floods that killed dozens and left hundreds of thousands homeless in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

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