Djokovic's well-stocked, carefree Adria Tour says tennis must go on

Djokovic's well-stocked, carefree Adria Tour says tennis must go on

“This is a positive message,” Djokovic said. “Of course, you can see it from all different angles. You can also criticize, you can also say, well, this is maybe dangerous or not...If we have the opportunity to gather like this, we’ll use the opportunity.”

Not a shred of social distancing. Few masks in sight. And when the players on the dais couldn’t hear a question from a journalist, the microphone was simply handed back, from one person to another.

If the ATP Tour is crawling its way back amidst a pandemic, the Adria Tour is running, full steam ahead.

The person who started the microphone-baton toss was Novak Djokovic, the headliner and organizer of the Adria Tour, which begins Saturday in Belgrade. Djokovic, among other health-related opinions, has been critical of the way the US Open could be staged, with rigid guidelines for what players can and cannot do. Based on the photography coming from the carefree Adria Tour’s pre-event press conference and opening ceremony, it’s easy to see why.


All photographs from Getty Images

With Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem joining Djokovic in a presser that felt like unearthing a time capsule, it’s also easy to envision a US Open that lacks a significant portion of its typical field. All four players expressed comfort in the Serbian setting, an environment in sharp contrast to what would be permitted at a U.S. sporting event.

On the other hand, if these four top players are so cavalier about coronavirus transmission, based on scientific research, perhaps the risk of contraction is the least of their concerns.

“I already played seven matches in Austria, but without any crowds,” said Thiem, who spoke with Djokovic four weeks ago about participating, and will compete with fans in attendance this weekend.

A reporter from Germany said it would be “impossible” to hold such an event in his country, but made the trip to Serbia. He asked Djokovic if he felt “business was back to normal,” and continued: “Are we having corona behind us now—is this the message you’re sending?”

“It’s definitely different circumstances,” said the world No. 1. “We all can feel that, even though we have different measures in Serbia than United States, for example, or UK. So it’s very difficult to speak about international standard. What is the international standard? Nobody knows, really.

“So it’s more a regional approach to see which countries allow these kind of events to happen in front of crowds, because they’ve been dealing with better numbers, maybe compared to some other countries. And in the region here, we’ve had pretty decent success with the coronavirus. Of course, a lot of lives have been lost, and this is horrible to see, here and also worldwide. But, you know, life goes on, and I think we as athletes are looking forward to play and compete, and the whole idea of this Adria Tour originated with a thought of how we could put together something like this.”

Djokovic went on to thank his playing colleagues, including Dimitrov, who traveled from the United States (“It didn’t take that much convincing on my end,” the Bulgarian said about his participation), along with the national tennis federation in Croatia, which is holding tournaments for lower-ranked players next week, offering prize money to struggling athletes.

“This is a positive message,” Djokovic said. “Of course, you can see it from all different angles. You can also criticize, you can also say, well, this is maybe dangerous or not. It’s not up to me to make the calls, what is health-wise right or wrong, we’re just following what the government of Serbia is telling us. If we have the opportunity to gather like this, we’ll use the opportunity.

“Hopefully we, collectively as tennis, will be able to go to back on the tour very soon.”

Still globetrotting, as he did while the tour was taking place, Zverev has likely seen life in the COVID-19 age from more perspectives than most. After the season was halted just prior to Indian Wells, the German was in the United States for two months, and has since traveled to Germany, Monte Carlo and, now, Serbia.

“For me, not the most surprising, but the nicest thing to see is that life really goes on here,” said the world No. 7. “We were in restaurants yesterday with live music…people were not afraid like they are maybe in other countries. So this is very nice to see.”

He added: “I haven’t this many people in one room for quite a while—it’s strange; it’s also very nice.”

The last word went to Thiem, who echoed Djokovic’s general comments about the restrictions that could be imposed by the US Open, including limiting a player’s tournament team to just one person.

“I think some circumstances would have to change to go there,” Thiem, the third-ranked player in the world, said about the current tournament proposal. “We’ll have to wait until the facts are out and decide.”