Tennis

Novak Djokovic slammed for coronavirus 'horror show'

Safety protocols were lax at exhibition tourney where four players, including world No. 1, contracted Covid-19

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was widely condemned for hosting a tennis exhibition where he was one of four players to test positive for Covid-19, a lapse that sent shudders through a sport struggling to get back on its feet.

The Serbian star, 33, said he was "deeply sorry" in an unstinting apology for the now-cancelled Adria Tour, where social distancing was minimal and matches were played in front of thousands of fans.

However, criticism was swift and heavy yesterday, with many voicing concerns over attempts to restart professional tournaments in August, including the US Open which is scheduled to begin on Aug 31.

In the latest repercussion, Serbian NBA player Nikola Jokic has reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus after being pictured with Djokovic at an exhibition basketball event in Belgrade earlier this month.

Jokic's team, the Denver Nuggets, who are ramping up preparations for a resumption of the NBA season, declined to comment on the report in the Denver Post, citing medical privacy. The player is now in quarantine in Serbia.

Besides Djokovic, his wife Jelena, Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki all tested positive after taking part in the Adria Tour, where players embraced across the net, played basketball and even danced in a nightclub.

Britain's Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam winner who has known Djokovic since their junior days, said: "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.

"Some people have said maybe this has put the US Open in doubt - which it may well do. But the measures and the protocols they have in place at the United States Tennis Association are different to Serbia and Croatia. No fans for a start."

As the mocking hashtag #Djokovid trended online, Australia's Nick Kyrgios, so often in the crosshairs for his own on-court indiscretions, said the incident was pure "stupidity".

"Don't @ me for anything I've done that has been 'irresponsible' or classified as 'stupidity' - this takes the cake," he tweeted.

Even before the Adria Tour, Djokovic was criticised for breaking lockdown rules to train in Spain. He then raised eyebrows by insisting he wouldn't vaccinate against the coronavirus.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion also described limits on players' entourages at the US Open as "extreme" and "impossible", again putting him at odds with much of public opinion.

His latest misstep has caused some to question his presidency of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals, or men's tour) Player Council, which advises the ATP board.

Bruno Soares, a doubles player who sits on the Player Council, called the Adria Tour a "horror show".

SCRATCH HEADS

"There are a lot of his peer group who are scratching their heads," celebrated coach Paul Annacone told tennis.com.

"I was totally anxiety-ridden and very disappointed because the restart (of tennis)... is just about eight weeks away.

"And with all these opportunities to try to start in a progression, to me, it felt like they skipped about 15 steps."

ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said it was a lesson for other tournaments.

"It's a little bit like when you tell your kids when they try to learn to ride the bike to wear the helmet," he said.

"It's 'no, no, no'. And they ride the bike, they fall and then they wear the helmet." - AFP

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