Novak Djokovic: A week to forget for world No. 1 after exhibition tennis fiasco

The top-ranked Serb instead engaged in a damage-limiting exercise after his exhibition tour in the Balkans, intended to be an uplifting moment during the sport’s hiatus. because of the coronavirus pandemic, was canceled when Djokovic, his wife Jelena, three other players. , three coaches and a player’s pregnant wife have tested positive for the virus.

Unlike other exhibition events during the pandemic, the Adria Tour has social distancing restrictions, held in crowded stadiums, with players hugging and punching each other, playing basketball. and dance together.

“He hasn’t had a good lockdown,” British sports marketing expert Tim Crow said bluntly in a phone interview with CNN Sport.

When Djokovic announced in May that he would be hosting the Adria Tour, it seemed that tennis was slowly emerging from the shutdown, which led to the first Wimbledon cancellation since the Second World War.

The Adria Tour, scheduled to be played in four cities from June 13 to July 5, attracted three-time Grand slam finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, world No. 7 Alexander Zverev of Austria. Germany and three-time major semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, among others. Djokovic’s 24-year-old brother, Djordje, was appointed tournament director.

Speaking at the launch press conference on May 27, Djokovic said he was “extremely happy” to announce the series organized by him and his family. He insisted “absolutely all earnings” from it would go to humanitarian organisations, before proudly announcing that all players would be playing for free.

He also said the tour would be “compliant and compliant” with local regulations and rules.

Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev (left to right) pose for a group photo before an exhibition basketball game in Zadar, Croatia.

Belgrade Party

When Djokovic played his first match against compatriot Serb Viktor Troicki on the afternoon of Saturday June 13 in Belgrade, about 4,000 spectators filled the stadium close to the Danube to capacity, with few fans wearing masks. . Players, good friends, hug after Djokovic won consecutive sets.

They also shook hands with the referee, while the volleyball kids handed them towels. They then took selfies with fans and signed autographs.

Serbia and Croatia, both of which have not experienced major virus outbreaks, have recently lifted many containment measures. But the Serbian government still requires people to stay one meter apart. The lack of social distancing stunned many people.

“As if the Coronavirus has passed?” Former British No 1 Greg Rusedski wrote on Twitter two days later. “How was this managed and why is it not concerned with the public alienating themselves from society and covering their faces. I know the figures in Serbia but how can they do this?”

The seemingly carefree nature of the event, which came days after a crowd of 20,000 attended a football match in Belgrade, also prompted Crow, the former chief executive officer of sports marketing company Synergy based in London, surprised.

“That’s a problem,” he said. “As soon as you turn on the TV, you think, ‘Wait a minute, what’s going on here?’ And unfortunately, we all know what happened.”

That same weekend, tennis players including Djokovic, Thiem, Zverev and Dimitrov were filming dancing in a crowded Belgrade nightclub.

Behind closed doors

The limited social distancing at the Adria Tour stands in stark contrast to other exhibition events during the pandemic in the US, Germany, UK and France, all held behind closed doors.

When Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ longtime coach, wanted to host an event at his academy in the south of France during the course of the course, he contacted the government. It sent him a long list of protocols, which he implemented in his Ultimate Tennis Showdown series.

“I want to make sure to do it in a way that no one can take the risk,” Mouratoglou told CNN Sport in a phone interview on Friday.

These include all players being screened the day before each weekend’s game, no fans, no handshakes or ball division between players, kids wearing gloves and masks and wide distances between every seat in the players’ box.

Speaking during the opening ceremony of the Adria Tour the day before his match against Troicki, Djokovic defended the social distancing restrictions of crowds.

He stressed that Serbia has “better numbers” than other countries. According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Serbia has had 13,372 confirmed cases, including 264 deaths. Neighboring Croatia has recorded 2,483 cases, including 107 deaths.

“You can also criticize us and say this can be dangerous but I don’t have to make an appeal about what is right and wrong in terms of health,” added Djokovic. “We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us.”

Spectators watch matches at the Adria Tour in Zahar, Croatia on Sunday, June 21, 2020. Later that day, tennis player Grigor Dimitrov said he had tested positive for Covid- 19, resulting in the cancellation of the entire Adria Tour.

Dimitrov .’s bombshell

The next leg of the Adria Tour taking place on June 20-21 once again attracts thousands of spectators, including Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who briefly met Djokovic. Because Croatia had relaxed its lockdown measures ahead of the event, players and fans were not required to follow social distancing rules.

Dimitrov then announced during the bomb blast on Sunday, June 21 that he had tested positive for coronavirus.

The organizers quickly canceled the entire series, while most of the other players were tested overnight. Then, on Monday, Borna Coric of Croatia confirmed that he had also tested positive, while Zverev, former US Open champion Marin Cilic of Croatia and Andrey Rublev of Russia both tested negative but promised. Will self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution.

Spectators watch a tennis match during an exhibition tournament in Zadar, Croatia, Sunday, June 21, 2020.

Troicki revealed he tested positive shortly after and then, on Tuesday, Djokovic confirmed that he and his wife, Jelena, had done the same. Troicki’s pregnant wife, Djokovic’s fitness coach, and Dimitrov’s coach were also positive. Then, on Friday, Djokovic’s co-coach, Wimbledon winner Goran Ivanisevic, revealed that he had also tested positive.

Dijana, Djokovic’s mother told the Serbian newspaper Blic that although world No. 1 is positive, “doesn’t mean he’s sick.”

“He’s a young man and can tolerate it more easily,” she said. ‘I also think this virus is almost over so this seems to be just a second wave of Corona, not as strong as it was in the beginning. “

“It’s horrible, so horrible, what they write (international media), but we’re used to it. It’s like they can’t wait for it (bad news) to happen. Obviously they have something against Novak”. “


Condemnation was swift, with Australian tennis player Nick Kyrgios calling it a “confusing decision” to continue the event. Britain’s Andy Murray said that after seeing some pictures of the Belgrade post-event party and Children’s Day, “it’s not surprising that so many people have tested positive.”

Djokovic, who traveled from Zadar to Belgrade before being tested, said he was “deeply sorry that our tournament caused harm.” Stressing that everything was done with good intentions, he said he believes the league meets all the procedures but that “we were wrong and it was too early.”

The blame game quickly got into full swing, with Djokovic’s father, Srdjan, pointing his finger at Dimitrov.

“Why did this happen? It was because the man (Dimitrov) could have gotten sick out of nowhere and then everything happened. Apparently he didn’t check here but somewhere else. different and I don’t think that’s true,” world Father of No. 1 told RTL Croatia.

“He has caused you great harm in Croatia, to us as a family and to us as Serbia,” added Djokovic’s father, continuing to point his finger at Dimitrov.

Dimitrov’s representative did not immediately respond to CNN Sport’s request for comment, but he was widely quoted as telling other media outlets that “Grigor landed directly in Belgrade after three months” completely isolated. Not in Belgrade (first stop) and then in Zadar. he suggested or requested a coronavirus test.”

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (L) chats with his wife Jelena during a match at the Adria Tour, Novak Djokovic's charity tennis tournament in the Balkans in Belgrade on June 14, 2020.

Buddha lost his reputation?

This is not the only Djokovic brush to cause controversy during the pandemic.

Not long before the Adria Tour began, Djokovic, who is also the president of the ATP Tour men’s player council, angered some players by suggesting he might not attend the US Open in New York at the end of the season. August because the organizers said. they want to limit the number of people who invite players to only one additional person.

In April, he raised eyebrows for saying he opposed the idea of ​​having to get a Covid-19 vaccine as a possible prerequisite to playing the Tour again. And in May, he suggested in an Instagram Live that Contaminated water can be actively purified.

“He was always an original thinker,” says Crow. “It’s part of his makeup.”

But Crow, who has worked with some of the biggest companies in the world, doesn’t think the collapse of the Adria Tour has damaged Djokovic’s personal brand.

“It’s not ideal but I think it’s just a blip,” Crow said. “He did it with the best of intentions and he realized he was wrong. And everyone started trying, every now and then.”

Djokovic’s representatives did not respond to CNN’s request for comment at the time of publication.

Djokovic has made $33 million in the past year from corporate deals with seven sponsors, including racket maker Head and French car maker Peugeot, according to Forbes.

Without the virus, he could have gone very well to tie or even surpass both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to become the most successful men’s tennis player of all time.

When the sport closed in March, Djokovic won five of his last seven majors, bringing his tally to 17. That’s just two behind Nadal and three of Federer, who has both retired. season because of a knee injury.

But instead of chasing a sixth Wimbledon title in the next two weeks, Djokovic will spend most of his time isolating himself from his family. | Novak Djokovic: A week to forget for world No. 1 after exhibition tennis fiasco


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