Two weeks back, Novak Djokovic looked all set as the mastermind of tennis’ comeback post the COVID-19 lockdown.
The Adria Tour put together a star-studded line-up of players who competed in stadiums with nearly 4000 to 5000 fans everyday. Hardly anyone was seen wearing masks and players posted videos playing basketball and football apart from a night-out in Belgrade where most of them took of their shirts and danced at an indoor club.
Cut to Tuesday and Djokovic confirmed that he and his wife have tested positive for coronavirus after three others players, who featured in the tournament, announced the same, including Viktor Troicki and his pregnant wife.
What Is (Was) The Adria Tour?
Austrian world number Dominic Thiem, Bulgarian world number19 Grigor Dimitrov, German world number 7 Alexander Zverev and a host of top-flight men’s tennis stars signed up for the Novak Djokovic-organised Adria Tour.
Slated to be played over four legs, the tournament was scheduled to run from 13 June to 5 July starting in Novak’s hometown of Belgrade (13-14 June) followed by Zadar (20-21 June), Montenegro (27-28 June) and Banja Luka (3-4 July).
The event was not sanctioned by the ATP, which has been suspended since March, when the pandemic forced all tennis events to be cancelled.
So in its absense, this was slated to be the treat for tennis fans who had been hungry for live-action tennis.
The aim of the event, according to a post on their official website, was to ‘raise funds for humanitarian projects across the region. At the same time, the organisers wish to help tennis players get back in shape and gain access to some competitive tennis in the COVID-19 situation.’
How is Djokovic Connected
‘Organised by our champion’ says a post on the official website of The Adria Tour making it clear that Novak Djokovic was the man behind the tournament. His brother, Djordje Djokovic, was the Tournament Director.
"I'm proud to officially share the news that the #AdriaTour will be held across the Balkans 13 June - 5 July kicking off with a tournament in Belgrade. Very grateful and excited we could make this happen to play and support humanitarian projects across the region. See you guys on court soon," said Djokovic in a tweet announcing the tournament last month.
As June rolled in, the tournament started taking shape and visuals of Dominic Thiem being welcomed by the Djokovic brothers was widely shared on social media. Not one person in the videos was seen sporting a mask, no social distancing was observed.
How Did Things Unravel?
On 15 June, Dominic Thiem defeated Filip Krajinovic 4-3 (7-2), 2-4, 4-2 to win the first leg of the tournament. Between matches, players were active on social media posting videos and photos of them playing contact sports – basketball and football – along with a night-out where they can be seen shirt-less.
The second leg got underway in Zadar, Croatia, on 20 June by which time it was announced that the third leg in Podgorica, Montenegro was cancelled due to coronavirus protocols for entering that country.
It wasn't until 21 June that things started to seriously unravel. 30 minutes before the final of the second leg, between Djokovic and Andrey Rublev, Grigor Dimitrov took to social media to announce that he had tested positive for coronavirus. He had withdrawn from the tournament a day earlier, after feeling unwell following his match against Coric.
The organisers though tried to indicate that Dimitrov could have caught the infection on his way back home. Late on Sunday, Djordje Djokovic even added that none of the other players had showed symptoms.
“Before coming to Zadar, Grigor was in his country. We don’t know if he was infected there, but it is certain that everyone who was in close contact with him will be tested tonight,” he said.
Only, by Monday news surfaced that Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki, Djokovic’s fitness trainer and Dimitrov’s coach had all also tested positive for COVID-19.
The ball finally fell when Novak himself announced that he and his wife were also COVID positive. Much to the relief of their fans, he added that their children’s tests had come out negative.
The tournament has since been cancelled and senior Djokovic is already pointing fingers at Dimitrov.
“Why did it happen? Because that man probably came sick, who knows from where,” Srdjan Djokovic told RTL Croatia TV. “He didn’t test here, he tested somewhere else"
Why No Precautions?
On the eve of the first leg, following wide criticism on social media after pictures and videos of players surfaced where no masks were worn or any sort of social distancing was practised, the 17-time Grand Slam champion addressed some of the queries.
“We (Serbia) have different circumstances and measures (to other countries) so it’s very difficult to think of international standards (regarding the pandemic),’ said the world number 1.
The country, as of Wednesday, has had just over 13,000 positive cases since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and they announced restriction on movement and shut borders on 15 March.
By the second week on May, however, with only a handful of new cases, the country lifted the lockdown and relaxed many of the rules. Which is what Djokovic cited while trying to explain his stance further.
“We’ve had better numbers compared to some other countries. Of course, lives have been lost and that’s horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on and we as athletes are looking forward to competing.
“You can also criticise us and say this is maybe dangerous but it’s not up to me to make the calls what is right or wrong health-wise. We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively,” he said.
Novak's Summer of Controversial Comments
“The moment we arrived in Belgrade we went to be tested. My result is positive, just as (wife) Jelena’s, while the results of our children are negative.
“I’m extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope that it will not complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine. I will remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days, and repeat the test in five days,” said Djokovic in his press statement while announcing that he and his wife had tested positive.
How and why he was allowed to leave Zadar without being tested and risk infecting any more people he came in contact with, is one of the big questions being asked even as many are forced to go back to the Serb’s April statement opposing compulsory vaccination for COVID when it is invented.
“Personally I’m opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen?" he had said during an Instagram live.
When Rafael Nadal was asked about his take on Djokovic’s view, his answer was simple - “Djokovic will have to be vaccinated if he wants to keep playing tennis at the top level”.
But he is not the only voice who is now speaking up against Novak’s choices with Andy Murray saying his event has given tennis a bad name.
"It's not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players' party and the kids' day. There was no social distancing in place. I don't think it (Adria Tour) has been a great look for tennis. Coronavirus doesn't care about who we are or what we do. We need to respect it and respect the rules," he said.
Nick Kyrgios, who himself has been part of many-a-controversies in the past, stated that nothing he has done in his career is as irresponsible as what these players did recently.
"Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the 'exhibition' speedy recovery fellas, but that's what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE," he Tweeted.
"I just think it's a poor example to set," said British tennis player Dan Evans was quoted as saying by BBC Sport.
"Put it this way, I don't think you should be having a players' party and then dancing all over each other. He should feel some responsibility in his event and how it's transpired," he added.
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