The Curious Case of Novak Djokovic and a carelessly planned Adria Tour

Tennis fans couldn’t hold on to their excitement in the early days of June 2020 when after over 90 days of no international tennis they were all set to watch ‘The Adria Tour’ an exhibition tennis tournament supported by the Novak Djokovic Foundation. The tournament was set to see the world’s best including the world no.1 Novak Djokovic himself competing for the top honours. Some of the other top tennis stars to accompany Djokovic in this exhibition tournament that began in Belgrade, Serbia on 13 th June and was scheduled to conclude at Bosnia and Herzegovina on July 5 th after travelling through Zadar, Croatia (June 20-21)  and Montenegro (June 27-28), were Austrian Dominic Thiem, Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov and and Croatian pair BornaCoric and Marin Cilic amongst others.

Now this was a tournament that was already raising a lot of eyebrows since its announcement. At a time when social distancing was the new normal thanks to the hard stop to every sporting activity worldwide due to the Corona Virus, this Balkan tournament went a step further getting clearances to have spectators by the Local Tennis Federation and the Serbian Government, much to the unhappiness of the global governing body. However, as soon as the clearances were received, the tournament put up the tickets for sale online, and it was house-full in flat seven minutes, clearly showcasing how people in Belgrade were starved of sports and how they were gung-ho about watching their hero in action. To add to this with some of the world’s best tennis stars in action is a rather unique format where each match will be best of three sets, with four games in each set it was already a success before the first serve was played.

As expected the first leg of the tour went off really well on the court, more like a picture perfect return of Tennis. World No.1 Novak Djokovic broke into tears in a match against Grigor Dimitrov  and how Djokovic was overwhelmed to see the kind of support that the tournament mustered in his homeland. Even though Djokovic couldn’t win the home leg as it was finally won by the Austrian tennis sensation Dominic Thiem by defeating Filip Krajinovic 4-3 (7-2) 2-4 4-2.

But Djokovic was happy and said in an interview with Eurosport that “It’s a huge effort, a huge success, and I think it’s a positive image for the sport in general, for tennis. I think it is important that we move on to do whatever we possibly can to provide opportunities for players regionally, continentally, and hopefully soon inter-continentally to compete and earn money, to earn points, and to live out of this sport as they [the players] have through all their careers.”

“We had to mobilize as many people as possible, trying to understand also the regulations and the measures that allow us to hold an event,” he continued. “It was beautiful to be able to play as world number one in Belgrade in front of the Serbian crowd and to see the full stands and then just to celebrate sport, to celebrate tennis, and do it for a good cause, of course. Absolutely, I’m filled with joy and with positive emotions.”

The picture perfect story on court was then followed by a celebration, maybe the biggest mistake as the actual drama on this night to celebrate the success of the first leg. As all the players went for an after party at a night club flouting all precautionary measures and social distancing practices, the internet went bezerkwith pictures that were posted on social media showing Djokovic, Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem having a whale of a time on Sunday night, along with other participating players.

As soon as the tour reached Zadar in Croatia for the second leg, this is where the Pandemic laid its hands on the tour. First it was Gregor Dimitrov who tested positive on June 22, 2020, followed by Borna Coric. Coric had beaten Dimitrov in the second leg of the Adria Tour in Zadar on Croatia’s Adriatic coast on June 21, 2020. To add to this Dimitrov’s coach and Djokovic’s personal trainer had already tested positive. Once the news on the outbreak caught fire Djokovic left for home without being tested as he said he was feeling alright without any symptoms, however on reaching home once he got tested, hell broke loose as it was not just him but his wife Jelena as well who tested positive. Thankfully his children tested negative. One sport, which till a month back was probably one of the few sports to have braved through the onslaught of the deadly corona virus now suddenly was submerged in the aftermath of a  careless decision – first to allow spectators and then the uncalled for party.

The tournament has been called off after the news and before this the Montenegro leg was already called off due to the strict health protocols of the government. Djokovic has apologized for the events that have taken place in the last week and admitted that he was wrong to organise the Adria Tour events in Serbia and Croatia.

In a statement, Djokovic said he and his wife Jelena, who also tested positive, are currently asymptomatic and will self-isolate.

“I am so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm,” he said. “Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions.

“We believed the tournament met all health protocols and the health of our region seemed in good conditions to finally unite people for philanthropic reasons.

“We were wrong and it was too soon. I can’t express enough how sorry I am for this and every case of infection.” “If you attended Adria Tour or were around any attendees please get tested and practise social distancing. For those in Belgrade and Zadar, we will be sharing health resources in the immediate future,” Djokovic added.

Australian Tennis Player Nicholas Kyrgios showed his discontent with Djokovic’s actions by sharing twitter videos of the after party where the tennis players were seen dancing half naked and without any social distancing.He even Tweeted “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.

What was expected to be the return of tennis before the ATP and WTA tours start later in August just turned out to be an ill timed and ill managed tournament and a decision rather taken in haste? Djokovic who was earlier in the headline for his uneasiness in participating in the US Open has now fallen prey to his own doing.This reinstated the question that we at raised earlier – is it too early for sports to return?

While football has set an example for the world with their fair share of Covid Positive cases, most other sports have been struggling to find their footing and the Adria tour has raised further doubts in the minds of every concerned authority.

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