Djokovic complains of ‘witch-hunt’ after Adria Tour criticism

Novak Djokovic has hit back at those who judged his staging of the coronavirus-hit exhibition tour, calling the criticism ‘malicious’.

Djokovic said the slew of criticism was like ‘a witch-hunt’, as he spoke to Serbian newspaper Sportski Zurnal.

The world no. 1 came under fire after the Adria Tour legs in Belgrade and Zadar resulted in participant Grigor Dimitrov testing positive for the virus. The final of the Zadar event was cancelled, as were the scheduled legs in Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki and Djokovic himself subsequently tested positive, as well as Goran Ivanisevic, members of support staff and Djokovic and Troicki’s wives. (Djokovic was tested again last week and received a negative result.)

Djokovic said:

‘I can only see criticism lately and much of it is malicious. It’s obviously more than just criticism, it’s like an agenda and a witch-hunt are on. Someone has to take the fall, a big name.’

In addition to thousands of fans in the stands, not wearing masks and not observing social distancing (in Belgrade – in Croatia they were asked to remain 2m apart), photos had been widely shared of players shaking hands with each other and umpires on the court as well as failing to observe social distancing off the court as they played football and basketball and danced shirtless together in nightclubs.

Djokovic with Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem at an Adria Tour event (PA Images)

Meanwhile, events in other countries were being played with strict attention to social distancing, including Patrick Mouratouglou’s Ultimate Tennis Showdown in France and Jamie Murray’s Battle of the Brits in Roehampton, UK.

Unsurprisingly, there was much consternation at these photos and footage before players began testing positive, and much more afterwards. Nick Kyrgios called the event ‘boneheaded’ and continues to criticise players involved ‘partying like potato’s’ [sic]. Bruno Soares, president of the ATP Player Council (of which Djokovic is president) called the tournament a ‘horror show’ and said: ‘Enormous irresponsibility and huge immaturity.’ Patrick McEnroe criticised Djokovic for failing to lead by example and said it was ‘hard to imagine’ Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Serena Williams behaving the same way.

As the organizer and guiding spirit of the Adria Tour, Djokovic received much of the criticism of the event. The world no. 1 had already been criticised during lockdown for saying he was ‘opposed to vaccines’ and conducting Instagram Live chats with supposed wellness gurus, while his wife Jelena had shared a conspiracy theory which links COVID-19 to 5G on her Instagram.

Djokovic apologised shortly after the Adria Tour prematurely ended, emphasizing that the tournament, which was designed to raise money for charity, was organised with a ‘pure heart and sincere intentions’.

But his family was keen to point fingers elsewhere, with father Srdjan blaming Dimitrov for ‘arriv[ing] ill from who knows where’ and ‘caus[ing] major harm’ and mother Dijana saying of the international media response: ‘It is obvious they have something against Novak.’

Djokovic also underlined that he was uncertain about whether or not he will be playing the US Open, due to take place from 31 August-13 September behind closed doors in New York, saying:

‘I still haven’t decided whether I will play in the US Open, the upsurge in registered Covid-19 cases in the United States and New York in particular are not playing into the event’s hands.’