It’s so bizarre to see what was a minor story among a handful of tennis fans become a global story of toxic masculinity, poor decision making and viral illness in the middle of a global pandemic. To recap, two weekends ago Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour exhibition series began in Belgrade. Novak brought some of the top men’s players in the world for his mini-exhibition tour, and he intended to bring the tour to different countries for four weekends in a row.
As soon as those top players began flying into Belgrade, there were already problems. Players got off the plane without masks, only to be greeted with hugs by Novak and his team. It got worse from there – as soon as the matches began, the stadium filled up entirely, with no masks and no social distancing. None of the ball kids, staff, etc wore protective gear. Players hugged at the net. Novak and company posted videos and photos showing all of the evening entertainment in Belgrade – dinner out in a group, lots of kissing and embracing and a night out dancing. All the men were shirtless, sweaty, hugging and drinking. I kind of believe the nightclub in Belgrade was ground zero for many of the infections in the group.
Una fiesta derivó en un contagio masivo de #coronavirus en tenistas.
Se infectaron el tenista croata Borna Coric, el entrenador físico de Djokovic y él; Marco Panichi, y el entrenador de Dimitrov, Cristian Groh, además de Dimitrov, que fue el primero.
— Janosik Garcia (@Janosikgarciaz) June 23, 2020
By the time the men descended on Zadar, Croatia on Friday, many of them were looking worse for wear. Grigor Dimitrov, Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverez all played poorly and all seemed out of sorts. Grigor dropped out of the tournament and flew home to Monaco. It turns out that he was already showing coronavirus symptoms in Zadar but he refused to be tested on-site. He announced he tested positive on Sunday. The final match was cancelled and all of the players on-site (except for Novak) got tested. Turns out, there were several infected players, coaches and wives-of-players. Novak waited to take his test in Serbia, then he waited to make the announcement: he tested positive. He packaged the announcement in a statement about his “pure heart and sincere intentions” and claimed that they waited to put together the exhibition tour until the virus had “weakened.” The initial statement completely ignored the fact that despite the loose local protocols, Novak has a responsibility to not only set the right tone, but he also actually has the total responsibility for the well-being of everyone associated with this catastrophe. So Novak ended up issuing another statement, this time with an actual apology of “I am so deeply sorry our tournament as caused harm… we were wrong and it was too soon.”
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) June 23, 2020
You know what bothers me about his two statements? At no time does he acknowledge that there were so many other options for all of this. Like, this wasn’t the first exhibition to be held in the past two months. There have been others, and none of them have ended up as huge global stories because everyone involved in THOSE exhos maintained social distancing protocols, there were little to no people in the stands, and everyone was wearing masks and taking precautions. Something like that could have easily been done in Croatia and Serbia. He also bears personal responsibility because he was taking people out to dinner and to nightclubs too.
When Tennis Twitter was complaining about the boneheaded decisions made by Novak and company, Novak’s defenders kept saying that “Serbia barely has any cases, they’re not like America!” Well, it turns out that the Serbia government has been under-reporting infection rates for weeks. Croatian tennis is in a pickle too – they completely f–ked this up and now a local WTA director is calling for an overhaul of the Croatian tennis federation.
Meanwhile, the director of WTA event in Bol, Croatia is calling for that Croatian Tennis president to resign.
"The tournament was organized by incompetent people…It is clear to me that everyone wants to be seen with Novak Djokovic and that few people dealt with the details."
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 23, 2020
As for the US Open, they issued a statement too:
This pic is from a week ago. Both Jokic and Djokovic tested positive for covid-19 today pic.twitter.com/cTwEsWB4Bp
— Dr. Guru (@DrGuru23) June 23, 2020
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.