Mr Novak Djokovic, tennis needs you to speak up



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Mr Novak Djokovic, tennis needs you to speak up

The timeline of the Adria Tour across the two cities of Belgrade (in Serbia) and Zadar (in Croatia) involved quite a lot of close-proximity mingling among the players not only before and during, but also after the event (as seen in the after-party held in Belgrade, two weekends ago).

Novak Djokovic, the event founder and organiser, and the world’s top-ranked player was at the forefront of all festivities, looking as though he was leading the charge. Now, as the event lies in shambles with each rationale that was used to counter reason and practicality getting heavily doused in irony after Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and a couple of members of coaching and training staff all tested positive for Covid-19, Djokovic – the man helming it all – is nowhere to be found.

Dimitrov and Coric, both of whom who announced their test results publicly on social media, apologised for “any harm they might have caused”. Even the likes of Cilic, Zverev and Rublev whose tests came back negative for Coronavirus added their regrets for having contributed to the chaos.

On the other hand, Djokovic is yet to make any public statement. The entirety of communication that has come from the organiser’s side has been by way of token press releases coming from the tournament’s official channels on social media.

Why Novak Djokovic needs to speak up?

This, even as multiple reports confirm that the 33-year-old boarded a private jet on the evening of 21st June to travel back with his family to his native Belgrade from Zadar, where he was due to play the final against Andrey Rublev on the same date before the multi-city Tour fell apart in the most obvious of manners possible.

Initial reports also said Djokovic had refused to get tested for contracting the infection since he felt fine physically although it later emerged, he did undergo tests on 22nd June in the Serbian capital. Relieving as it was that circumstances had forced Djokovic to change his stance, his decision-making was telling, nonetheless.

The rest of the Adria Tour contingent in Zadar went about making efforts (or as much as they could) to try and rein in the situation by getting themselves tested on the 21st evening. On the other hand, that the 17-time Slam champion’s preference was to travel back to Belgrade instead of opting to do the same was a blatant disregarding of the disease’s threat – all over again.

It also did away with solidarity, making him look seemingly oblivious to his colleagues’ predicament while mired in the same murky situation. This silence is, then, keeping in line with a common theme involving Djokovic.

Voluble when it is about issues that have suited his cause and quiet when he has been at the centre of the fracas which, in turn, led to more chaos. Like, in the days leading up to the US Open’s announcement of how it would be played.

Many players were sceptical and disinclined when the United States Tennis Association (USTA) stated its intentions of scheduling the US Open in 2020. Although the formal announcement was made a while later, players did not hesitate to air their grievances and worries about what they perceived could go wrong with the restarting of the schedule.

One among this horde of doubters, Djokovic’s concerns, however, were about the limitations that were speculated to be enforced to limit the number of people gathered at the venue at Flushing Meadows. It was initially proposed that every player would be able to travel with just one member – any of his choosing – as part of his entourage at the Cincinnati and US Opens, Djokovic was not amenable to the idea.

“…Also, we could bring one person to the club, which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist”. The USTA’s eventual stipulations made it easier on the top-ranked players to play the event as compared to the lower-ranked players who found themselves and their cause side-lined.

It led to overwhelming discontent among them. At that point, despite his carefully-crouched words, Djokovic’s stance was in favour of the USTA’s regulatory alterations rather than his dissatisfied peers. As yet, he is still to speak up for their cause as befitting the head of the ATP Player’s Council.

Meanwhile, the Adria Tour – both in Belgrade and in Zadar – seemed geographically quite distant to the movements of the tennis world in the United States. Its ambience, too, was distinct from the greyish hue of precaution the USTA took by imposing restrictions for potentially ensuring success for its events.

And, when queried about the visible lack of safety measures employed, Djokovic doubled down on the way his event was proceeding rather than accept that things could go wrong. “We have different circumstances and measures, so it’s very difficult to think of international standards,” he said.

“You can also criticise us and say this is maybe dangerous, but it’s not up to me to make the calls about what is right or wrong for health. We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully, we soon will get back on tour collectively”.

In the end, things did worsen. They did so because the event not only failed to “think of international standards” but also failed to follow the Serbian government’s protocols in their entirety. And, in this incident, by being absent – vocally and physically – Novak Djokovic cannot elude the fall that has been placed on his shoulders.

It is behoving for him both as an athlete in his capacity and also from the perspective of the sport he represents. If there were one time when he needs to speak up, there is none more compelling than the present goings-on.