By Aniket Panja
The tennis season may have put on the back burner but nothing is stopping Novak Djokovic from making news. The 16 time Grand Slam Champion and his wife Jelena tested positive for Coronavirus. But what is making the headlines are the bizarre circumstances leading up to it.
Novak Djokovic organised the Adria tour, an exhibition tournament, along with his brother to raise money in the fight against Covid-19. Quite ironically almost all those who participated in the event have tested positive or have been advised to self-isolate. What is shocking is that Novak decided to organise the event at a time when the world is still coming to grips with the intensity of the virus.
Not only Djokovic and his wife, but Grigor Dimitrov, Viktor Troicki and his pregnant wife, Borna Coric as well as David Goffin have all tested positive. However, the real controversy erupted when video was leaked of the starts partying after the tournament. Djokovic and others could be seen dancing around with several people in attendance.
All social distancing norms went for a smash. As the news of Djokovic testing positive percolated around the world, the mega star came out with a bizarre statement saying that he thought that the intensity of the virus had subsided but he was wrong.
Among the players who had attended was Australian Open semifinalist Sascha Zverev. The rising star may be one of the futures of the sport but his off the court antics has left everyone baffled. After Zverev was asked to self- isolate he said that he would listen to his doctors advise only to disregard all safety norms as video emerged later showing that he was partying yet again.
The recklessness did not go down well with many but among them Nick Kyrgios did not waste time in letting Sascha know what he thought about the matter. He put out a video on Instagram where he said, “So I wake up and I see more controversial things happening all over the world but one just stuck out for me. Seeing Sascha Zverev again, again, how selfish can you be? How selfish can you be?”
The situation right now revolves around people trying to protect Novak and Alex Zverev with others calling them out for endangering lives. Filip Krajinovic has already claimed that Djokovic will once again silence his critics on the court and given Novak’s character we would be surprised if he didn’t.
He is likely to come out all guns blazing when the season resumes and dominate the sport like he has been doing. But the reality is that the Adria tour was a debacle. Someone of this stature should have reviewed the situation better before going through with it. There is no doubt that Djokovic is a champion on the court but this incident has just given people ample ammunition to question whether he is a champion off it?
This is one return game that Djokovic missed out on. He and many others have been aced by the Coronavirus. All we can do know is hope for a speedy recovery but when the players do return to the court there will be more than just fireworks.
By Aniket Panja
Although at a disadvantage and severely low on options, the organisers of the US Open and Roland Garros are putting in the work to bring tennis back to the fans
As the world slowly comes to grips with the coronavirus, the sporting fraternity too is raising its head after a long absence. League football has started in Germany and Spain and the Formula One organisers are working on a plan to hold a curtailed season.
In that regard it should not come as a surprise that the United States Tennis Association has decided to go ahead with the US Open. The tournament scheduled to be played from August 31 to September 13 still requires support from the Trump administration, the state of New York and other stake holders. But the organisers have decided to play it behind closed doors for the time being.
The situation may change drastically and there are a lot of things to iron out first. For one, the French Open (Roland Garros) refuses to succumb to the pandemic with a September 21 start on the organizer’s minds. Now, if the top seed players do decide to play both tournaments there are a lot of complications involved.
Current World No. 2 and defending champion at Roland Garros and the US Open, Rafael Nadal will need to work on the logistics of defending both these Grand Slam titles. As per recent updates players travelling to the United States do not need to quarantine themselves but travelling back to Europe may present a different challenge.
Players could be asked to isolate themselves before being able to take to the court. Moreover, there is the added pressure of trying to quickly adjust from the hard courts to the grueling clay in Paris. While Nadal may rightly have earned the title ‘King of Clay’ owing to his stellar record on the surface, he would still need matches under his belt. The 34 year old would have to endure a lot of stress on his body, that too in a short span of time, to be competitive at both tournaments.
The matches are not the only hiccup. The long miles of travel are sure to take a toll as well. Also, if the restrictions are anything like at the US Open, many players may opt to back out. There is a plan to keep players’ movements to a bare minimum and lodge them in a hotel outside Manhattan. The added stipulation of allowing just one support staff with the payers would see the players have to make a difficult choice of choosing between their coach and physiotherapist.
There are some tough questions to be answered and not a ball has been hit yet. Besides, there is no guarantee that big stars would be willing to turn up. While Roger Federer has been sidelined until 2021 with a second surgery on his knee, World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has expressed doubts whether he would want to play at all this year.
Some like Maric Cilic have asked the prize money to be increased while others have demanded that ranking points on offer should be reduced or even done away with. The latter demand has been rejected by the officials already because given the $52 million media rights, the US Open cannot be relegated to an exhibition tournament.
In the women’s field, defending French Open Ladies champion Ashleigh Barty has already hinted that she may not play. Lending her support is Romanian Simona Halep who has doubts about whether it would be safe to travel. Karolína Plíšková on the other hand, wants things to resume as quickly as possible because according to her, the virus is not going away anytime soon. She has also made the additional demand of allowing the number of support staff to be increased to at least two.
In fact, such is the frenzy to organise the tournament that the French Open organisers has had to scrap the mixed doubles format. The number of participating players has also been reduced to 96 and with the new roof at court Phillippe Chatrier ready; there are plans to hold back to back matches.
However, will the players risk playing in such adverse conditions? The pandemic might be the primary cause of worry but apart from that, stress and injuries pose a consequential menace. Top stars have to cope with their fair share of injuries and one would think they may not be willing to take the risk; or they could pick and choose which events to play.
Despite this barrage of aforementioned obstacles, the biggest loss would be the fans. It is painfully difficult to imagine Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic hitting a crisp winner up the line and what ensues is pin drop silence. While football is an eleven man sport, on a tennis court the tension is much more personal. The fans add to the drama, tension and excitement which make the humdingers all the more memorable.
While the tournaments may go ahead, can the void left by fans on a tennis court really be filled? Something to think about as they are busy preparing the draw perhaps.