Dubai: The inevitable has now happened with the world’s top player Novak Djokovic also testing positive and taking the tally to five – Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki and another former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, being the other four.
The tri-series tournament – that now stands cancelled - also had top names such as Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, both of whom are safe. The first event was held in Belgrade and last weekend’s leg was in Zadar, Croatia, but had to be called off before Sunday’s final after Dimitrov’s result came positive.
The first leg in Serbia attracted 4,000 fans, many without even wearing face masks. The tennis players have been pictured playing basketball and dancing together without following social distancing protocols in a Belgrade nightclub.
Always one to cut to the chase, Australian Nick Kyrgios was among the first with his usual no-nonsense swipe.
“Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’,” Kyrgios posted on Twitter late on Monday while reminding fellow professionals that the COVID-19 pandemic is not to be taken lightly.
“Speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE,” the maverick player had further cautioned.
While on the one hand, everyone’s concern will be on the well-being of the players, equally important will be what happens to the sport going forward.
For sure, the positive tests raise serious concerns for the governing bodies of tennis in their bid to restart the sport after the professional game has remained shut down since early March.
As recent as last week, the ATP and the WTA issued revised calendars for the resumption of the circuits from August 14 (Washington D.C.) and August 4 (Palermo) respectively, while organisers of the US Open guaranteed that the grand slam will be staged without fans, starting on August 31.
Certainly, the spate of positive cases is like a step backward, not just for the players, but for the sport as well. The ATP and the WTA and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) will have to take steps to make an immediate assessment of the situation to decide if things are really safe to continue as hitherto planned.
But given the fact that most of the top-ranked players are Europe based, the two tours will see an automated polarisation due to a genuine and now well-founded hesitancy to travel across the Atlantic.
In the men’s, the top-12 are all from Europe. Among the first to tap in on behalf of the Americas is Argentinean Diego Schwartzman at No.13 followed by the Canadian duo of Denis Shapovalov (No.16) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (No.20), while Chile’s Cristian Garin (No.18) is cheesed in-between.
Fortunately, the WTA rankings are more spread out with 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin of the US at No.4 trailing the top three of Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova. The other two North Americans are Canada’s Bianca Andreescu (No.6) and former world number one, Serena Williams (No.9).
The positive thing, in all this, is that Djokovic’s children who accompanied him at the tournaments, both tested negative. Later on Tuesday, Djokovic issued a statement justifying that everything he did was done “with a pure heart and sincere intentions”. “Our tournament meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region,” his statement said.
“We organised the tournament when the virus has weakened, believing the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met. Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality we are learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were,” he added. He will now remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days and repeat the test in five days.
Perhaps, former world number one Martina Navratilova summed things up best when she tweeted: “Yikes…this is not good and it’s a pattern…Hope Novak will be ok of course! What now, US Open? Roland Garros? We have a lot of work to do…”