“Oh boy.” Eight minutes after Patrick McEnroe’s tweet, Nick Kyrgios, posted the exact same message. But the Australian’s “Oh boy” was attached to a news headline that read: “World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has tested positive for coronavirus.”
Before last Sunday, it seemed that tennis had isolated itself from the virus successfully. After all, there was just one case of an active player, when Brazilian youngster Thiago Seyboth Wild tested positive just before lockdown. Since the weekend though, there have been four more players, and Djokovic has become the most high profile athlete across sports to be infected. “The moment we arrived in Belgrade, we went to be tested. My result is positive, just as Jelena’s (his wife), while the results of our children are negative,” the Serb said. “Everything we did in the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions.
“We organised the tournament at the moment when the virus has weakened, believing that the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met. Unfortunately, the virus is still present, and it is a new reality that we are still learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were. I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection.
“I hope that it will not complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine. I will remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days, and repeat the test in five days.”
Crucially, the four new positive cases in tennis – which includes Djokovic, former world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, world No. 33 Borna Coric and former world No.12 Viktor Troicki – have come after the players took part in Djokovic’s charity exhibition event, the Adria Tour.
Interestingly, Djokovic, who has been vocal against vaccinations or even being tested, did not get his test done until after he travelled back to Serbia. The event was designed to be played as two-day events across four different countries, starting with Belgrade, Serbia, then the most recent one in Zadar, Croatia. But the final of the Zadar leg was cancelled, and the Adria Tour, on Tuesday evening, called off the rest of the tournament.
The charity exhibition event has been heavily criticised as no restrictions were put in place.
The players – the likes of Djokovic, world No. 3 Dominic Thiem (who won the first leg in Belgrade), world No. 7 Alexander Zverev, world No. 14 Andrey Rublev and 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic – engaged in exhibition basketball and football matches, attended after-parties, and spectators were neither required to maintain social distancing nor wear masks.
Criticism for Djokovic however, had started much before the Adria Tour launched. The 17-time Grand Slam champion had initially been critical over the US Open organisers’ proposals of hosting the major with heavy restrictions.
The 33-year-old called them “extreme” and “impossible.” He was particularly worried that only one member of support staff would be allowed through the tournament. On Friday, however, he changed his stance, saying he was “extremely happy” with the arrangements.
Meanwhile, he defended the Adria Tour, saying, “We followed the rules and measures laid down by the government and public health institutions from day one. We didn’t cross the line. We went through all these processes, and the overall result was fantastic.”
It wasn’t till Sunday however, around 30 minutes before the final of the second leg in Zadar, between Djokovic and Rublev, that things started to unravel. Dimitrov, who had pulled out of the second leg, announced that he had tested positive for the virus. The final was suspended as a precaution.
When “around 100 people were tested,” according to tournament director Djordje Djokovic (Novak’s younger brother) who was quoted by Reuters, Coric, Djokovic’s fitness trainer Marko Paniki and Dimitrov’s coach Kristijan Groh came positive. Troicki, who played at the Belgrade event but did not travel to Zadar also tested positive.
The new cases are bound to change the way organisers of the US Open and French Open – the latter especially, since they made it clear they will hold the major with fans allowed in the stadium – will go about staging their respective events when the tour restarts in August. In another Twitter post on Tuesday, McEnroe had some advice to offer.
“We know that there’s nothing fool-proof in our return in any walk of life, to normal life, after this or during this virus,” he says. “Nothing is fool-proof, but don’t be foolish.”