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Where does the ATP go from here? Djokovic, Nadal and Zverev weigh in
Djokovic and Zverev floated the idea of an NBA-style bubble, with multiple events held in one location. "If we stop the tour," Nadal said, it would be difficult to restart and "a lot of jobs gonna suffer a lot. I mean, not only players."
Published Feb 17, 2021
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal agree that quarantining is tough on players and their physical fitness, but they have different views on whether the coronavirus pandemic requires further adjustments to the ATP tour.
Government restrictions on traveling and entry have increased in various countries in recent weeks, creating concerns about whether players can feasibly get to tournaments, and whether they will be required to quarantine. The call has been exacerbated by several injuries to players during the Australian Open, where competitors had to spend two weeks in hotel quarantine in order to play.
Djokovic pointed to the quarantine as the likely explanation for the injuries.
"What we are seeing is not normal. It's not something we are used to. Top players are the ones that are fittest," said Djokovic, who experienced an oblique injury during his third-round victory. "Now you have Matteo Berrettini, even Rafa [Nadal] coming in with a back injury, myself, Sascha [Zverev], [Grigor] Dimitrov.
"I mean, obviously it has something to do with these kind of circumstances that we were in. I mean, coming into a Grand Slam and a tournament before the Grand Slam."
Berrettini withdrew from his fourth-round match with an abdominal injury, while Dimitrov was visibly hampered by back problems during his quarterfinal loss to Aslan Karatsev. Zverev began the tournament with an abdominal injury.
Berrettini withdrew from his fourth round due to an abdominal injury. (Getty Images)
Djokovic indicated that players are increasingly saying they do not want to have to do more quarantine at other events, especially smaller tournaments.
"I don't want to sit here, complain about what we have been through, but we have to be honest and realistic that it has an effect," the Serbian said. "Of course also mental, emotional, but physically—I mean, this is not normal. We are hoping that it's temporary. But talking to a lot of players, majority of the players just don't want to go ahead with the season if we are going to have to quarantine most of the tournaments."
The buy-in for the Australian Open and its warm-up tournaments may be an exception, rather than the rule, for players in 2021.
"I mean, Grand Slam is a Grand Slam. If you want to talk about financial aspects, obviously here we are getting the prize money that we are usually getting," Djokovic said. "So obviously I think that's one of the biggest reasons why a lot of players just came and said, 'Okay, we'll accept 14 days quarantine.'
"But that's not going to be the case on the ATP events, especially [at the] 250, 500 [levels]. It's huge prize money reductions. So for the lower-ranked players, I have heard a lot of complaints. Challenger players, a lot of complaints."
Dimitrov grimaces in pain during his quarterfinal loss to Karatsev. (Getty Images)
Nadal, who is on the ATP Player Council, agreed that having to quarantine repeatedly would be difficult, but was not aware of any upcoming tournaments that would require players to quarantine. Events scheduled in the next few weeks include Rotterdam, Doha, Dubai, Acapulco and Miami.
"Yes, I agree... but if I am not wrong, I don't see events that we have to do quarantine to play in the next couple of months," he said, adding, "And [Djokovic is] completely right that for our sport things are difficult because governments are changing the rules constantly."
But the Spaniard is not in favor of suspending the tour again. There was a five-month stop in competition in 2020.
"We need to think a little bit bigger," he said. "Probably we need to find a way to protect the players with the ranking, to not force them to keep playing. But that's it. We need to find solutions and we need to adapt to this very tough times that we are facing."
While Zverev brushed off suggestions of injury affecting his quarterfinal against Djokovic—"I think we felt fine," he said—the German questioned whether the tour could function as usual.
"I agree that we can't have a traveling circuit right now. It's just as simple as that. Injuries will keep on happening. You know, there is restrictions to countries," he said. "I think what the ATP should do and should look into is, you know, maybe having a venue like here and play multiple weeks at one place. Multiple tournaments, multiple weeks.
"Europe right now we can't have spectators anyways, so what difference does it really make where we play the tournament -- we can change the, you know, city name on the court or whatever, and then play it at one venue."
Zverev added that he had spoken to Djokovic and Vasek Pospisil, who lead the PTPA player group that is aiming to represent player interests. Djokovic and Pospisil are former members of the ATP Player Council.
Zverev believes playing multiple tournaments in a single venue is a prudent idea right now. (Getty Images)
Djokovic concurred with Zverev's suggestion of a centralized location for events should quarantine be required.
"I spoke to some of the council members, and they are saying they have extensive discussions about that with ATP management," he said. "We have to find a way, you know, whether it's something like an NBA bubble, because I heard some players talk about that. Select one place and we play all the tournaments on that surface and that place. You know, three, four weeks in, three, four, two, three weeks rest, then back again. Something like that. I don't know. On the top level."
Djokovic suggested the concern is largely potential quarantine requirements in Europe, on top of current limits on team members, testing requirements and safety protocols.
"Next few months is going to be Miami, Middle East, so forth," he said. "But once we start in Europe, I mean—and, you know, ATP came up with this rule of player plus two only. So if you have family, you can't take family on the road. Regardless of the fact where you are playing, whether in that specific country you have better conditions maybe than in some other country, you still are obliged to take only two people with you.
"So we are basically going to be in a bubble every tournament all year, regardless where we are. Which is, you know, fine if there is no quarantine, but I have been hearing that there are some countries that don't want to accept people coming in from some specific countries because of the virus strains, different virus strains."
Nadal acknowledged the difficulties for players.
"My personal feeling is it's tough for the players, of course, have to do bubbles in every single event, flying just plus two, a lot of players have family and they cannot have the family with them, so that makes our tour probably tougher than ever," he said.
But "if we stop the tour," it would be difficult to restart and "a lot of jobs gonna suffer a lot. I mean, not only players," he said.