The World number 1 Men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic is among the latest victims of COVID19 infection. The Serb was tested positive after taking part in his exhibition tennis series called as the Adria tour. Along with Djokovic other tennis players like Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, and Viktor Troicki have also tested positive. The news brings worrying signs for the ATP and WTA as the tour is supposed to start again in the last week of August. We examine the implications of Djokovic’s Adria tour disaster on the remaining tennis tournaments of the season 2020.
What was the Adria Tour?
The Adria tour was a 3 legged exhibition series tournament that was planned to be held in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. It was primarily organized by the world number 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia and his team. There were many high profile players like world number 3 Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, etc who were a part of the event. The players did not adhere to any social distancing norms and the courts were filled with spectators. The tournament was coming under criticism for the first day for not taking the virus seriously.
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Dominic Thiem won the 1st edition of the tournament that was played in Belgrade Serbia. However, disaster soon struck as Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria who was a part of the Serbian edition of the tour tested positive to the Corona-virus. There was more bad news to follow soon when other players like Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also tested positive. Finally, world number 1 and tour’s most popular face Novak Djokovic also tested positive along with his wife Jelena and his coach Goran Ivanisevic. The tennis world was rocked by this Adria Tour Disaster and soon the negative reactions came.
Djokovic in the Line of Fire
Sharp criticism towards the Adria tour and player’s attitude soon began to pour in from fellow players and fans. Nick Kyrgios of Australia who has a steamy relationship with Novak Djokovic termed the decision to play as ‘boneheaded’. Djokovic’s long-time rival and former world number 1 Andy Murray argued thus such conduct by the players was, ‘not a great look for tennis’.
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Another British tennis star Dan Evans slammed Djokovic for,’ treating the Corona-virus like a joke’. Martina Navratilova also expressed deep concerns about the tour resumption following the Adria disaster. Rafael Nadal’s former coach and uncle Toni Nadal also expressed concerns that the Adria tour was a mistake.
There was huge criticism of players not using any masks, not adhering to any norms of social distancing, and even partying in the nightclubs. There has been increasing pressure for Novak Djokovic to resign as the President of the ATP Players Council. The Serb on his part issued a statement apologizing and accepting that it was a mistake to hold those matches. Even other players who took part in the tour like Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem have issued public apologies about their conduct and ignoring social distancing.
Can Tennis Resume Now?
The ATP and WTA seasons have already lost many big tournaments including the 2020 Wimbledon Championships canceled. The US Open and French Open are scheduled to be held in September and October. There are also 2 clay-court Masters 1000s Italian Open and Madrid Masters looking to be scheduled around the same time and so is the Cincinnati Open l. There are however mounting challenges to ensure the tennis courts don’t become COVID hotspots.
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The US Open has announced very strict preventive measures to ensure that the tournament is conducted safely. There will be no spectators on the stadiums and courts. Tennis fans can watch the US Open matches only on TV and other digital services. Tennis players coming to New York in September can only bring one additional member to accompany them, unlike the usual big teams. They will also have to quarantine for two weeks before the Open. Interestingly Novak had earlier criticized the US Open for such measures calling them ‘extreme’.
Roland Garros authorities have also that there will be minimum or possibly no spectators on the courts. Tennis may thus resume in late August or September but it will look very different. There are mounting challenges and pressures to restart the tour, especially by the low ranked players. They have been suffering massive issues on the economic front since the suspension. It remains to be seen how the tennis authorities plan on these big tournaments. There are also discussions about very few balls boys and line judges to be allowed on the courts.
A silver lining may be the procedures that are being followed by the Ultimate Tennis Showdown, which is being held at Pattrick Mouratoglou’s tennis academy in France. The exhibition event is being held without any on-court spectators and has been risk-free till now. It is a microcosm of how the post-pandemic tennis tournaments may look like for some time now.