Like many we looked on at the first leg in Belgrade questioning what we were seeing, wondering at the hugs, handshakes and 4,000 strong crowds. When news broke earlier this week that first Grigor Dimitrov, then Borna Coric, and eventually Viktor Troiki and Novak Djokovic (along with both their wives and multiple trainers) had tested positive for COVID-19 we followed the news with the rest of the tennis world. We texted each other after each update and read as statements came out from players lucky enough to escape infection. With each new case we found ourselves increasingly saddened, unsurprised and enraged.
As a site dedicated to tennis, we have decided that we want to speak publicly. We aren’t experts in the sport, or in the pandemic, but we are tennis fans and citizens of this world.
Since the pandemic broke out in China people around the globe have had their lives turned upside down, lost jobs, lost loved ones. We have been inside our homes for months on end, many without access to gardens or safe green spaces. We have done it all to try and minimize the loss of life.
As restrictions started to ease we enjoyed the highlights coming out of national exhibition tournaments across Europe; two players and an umpire on otherwise empty courts. They seemed as much for the players as the fans who watched on TV, an illustration of how much they love what they do.
The Adria tour was, from the moment the players landed in Belgrade, clearly a very different beast. Alexander Zverev stepped out of his private jet and shared a hug with Novak Djokovic on the tarmac. We haven’t seen our families or hugged our friends since March. Images and highlights followed of ball kids, parties and packed stadiums. Assurances came that they were following Serbia’s guidelines. Earlier this week in The Tennis Podcast they spoke about the Adria Tour and, according to their research, this isn’t actually true. But even if it is these images are out of step and out of tune with the rest of the world.
One of the things we love about tennis is that as a sport it is a shining example to all fans of good sportsmanship, humanitarianism and fighting to be the best person you can. The photographs of players, who have since tested positive for coronavirus, surrounded by children will haunt tennis for many years to come. It undoes lifetimes of work put into the good reputation of the sport.
The idiotic act of flying across borders, playing and socializing the way they did was selfish, arrogant and stupid. The harm they have done to themselves and to who knows how many innocent families and children is gut-wrenching. As Nick Kyrgios stated on twitter: ‘…This is NOT A JOKE.’ You’ve got to wonder at the state of tennis when Kyrgios is the voice of reason.
The responsibility for this total disaster lies at the feet of every player and all the organisers, the apologies too little too late. However, the weight of it belongs on Novak Djokovic’s shoulders. This is not simply because he conceived of the exhibition, but because of his standing within tennis and in Serbia. He is world number one, a globally recognisable figure, and a man of great importance in his own country. Like politicians, actors and other famous figures he has a responsibility to act as a good example. He should not be telling the world that you can purify water with your mind (not just idiotic but dangerous for thousands around the world where dirty water carries deadly diseases), he should not be speaking out against vaccinations, and he should not be at the centre of an exhibition tournament where sweaty towels are being thrown to ball kids and players are dancing in nightclubs after hugging on court.
His statement after travelling home to Belgrade to get tested (against all World Health Organisation guidelines as he should have gone into isolation in Zadar) said the event was organised with all good intentions and a philanthropic aim. That might well have been the initial seed of the idea, but from what we saw that aim was lost long before the event started. This was an event run from ego and arrogance and the damage caused might never be truly known.
Tennis deserves a better apology from Djokovic and it deserves better leaders than the players who took part.