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Novak Djokovic's event played a part in derailing Serbia's COVID-19 progress: Rothenberg

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Rudra Biswas
Modified 21 Jul 2020, 19:11 IST

Novak Djokovic was one among several tennis players and coaches to test positive for COVID-19 during the Adria Tennis Tour - an exhibition that was organized by the Serb himself.

The 17-time Grand Slam winner attracted heavy criticism for the lack of basic safety precautions through the course of the tournament. The feasibility of organizing other tournaments going forward has also been questioned by many in the days since.

Novak Djokovic later apologized for his folly, but reiterated that the intention behind his project was noble and good-hearted. A few players have come to the defense of the Serb and his tournament in recent times, but they have been outnumbered by the critics.

Recently, on an edition of the talk show "Match Points", Marion Bartoli, Noah Rubin and journalist Ben Rothenberg spoke on the current tennis situation amid the pandemic. Rothenberg in particular was sharply critical of Novak Djokovic and the Adria Tour, saying that they played a part in destabilizing Serbia's COVID-19 situation.

Novak Djokovic and his friends were all smiles before disaster struck
Novak Djokovic and his friends were all smiles before disaster struck

The ruckus at Novak Djokovic's ill-fated tournament has raised questions about the full-fledged return of tennis, including the US Open and Roland Garros. While the USTA intend to organize the Slam in "a bubble", i.e without fans, the French Open organizers are reportedly planning to allow limited spectators into the venue.

Asked if the conditions were safe enough for the French Open to go ahead, former Wimbledon champion Bartoli said:

"There will be no close contact between the player and the crowd whatsoever, no autographs, the first row of courts will not be accessible. In France we're almost back to normal; as it stands right now, the situation is really under control."

But there's a risk of overcrowding even if the intention is to allow a small number of fans in, as was seen at Novak Djokovic's Adria Tennis Tour.


Originally supposed to permit only 1,000 spectators, Novak Djokovic & Co made light of the safety protocols as the tournament progressed. About 4,000 fans were reportedly seen at the venue at one point, with very few of them wearing masks or observing physical distancing.

Since Novak Djokovic's tournament, Serbia has not been doing well: Ben Rothenberg

Novak Djokovic looks on at Adria Tour
Novak Djokovic looks on at Adria Tour

Bartoli's account about the situation in France might suggest it would be safe to hold a tournament with spectators, but Ben Rothenberg was quick to assert that the risks are too large and that disaster could strike at any time.

"Roland Garros would seem very packed with people even at 60 percent capacity, so it's just not worth the risk. France is doing very well and the way to stop doing well is to hold a massive tennis tournament, that can spread everything again," Rothenberg said.

The journalist went on to add that organizers need to take lessons from how the Adria Tour was the tipping point from where Serbia lost a bit of control over the virus situation.

"You saw this with Serbia. Serbia was doing incredibly well, statistically, on coronavirus, before the Novak Djokovic organized Adria Tour. And since then, with other events opening as well, Serbia's not doing well with lots of cases and political unrest," Rothenberg said.

Serbia has now registered more than 12,000 COVID-19 positive cases and 252 deaths, as the government continues to struggle with implementing lockdown amid mass protests.

"Tennis at Novak Djokovic's tournament played a small but definite part in derailing their progress. It was asking for trouble, it was inviting disaster," Rothenberg added.
Published 21 Jul 2020, 19:11 IST
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