Dubai: If last week gave a sense of pride and purpose, then this week world number one Novak Djokovic will be left ruing about an ‘ill-timed adventure’.
Of course, Djokovic should have had all reasons to be happy that he was bringing tennis to Belgrade and the surrounding countries through his much-hyped Adria Tour.
He beamed when Dominic Thiem and Sasha Zverev joined him for dinner, and he cried when the weekend was over and his childhood memories of the city flooded back.
While Djokovic’s critics say he “wants to be loved”, there was a new twist this time when perhaps Djokovic only wanted his home to be loved. But it was the wrong time to try to live without limits that the Serbian persistently speaks about.
Late on Tuesday, Djokovic’s statement stressed he is “so sorry” after becoming the latest tennis player to test positive for Covid-19. Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki had all revealed they had coronavirus after playing at Djokovic’s Adria Tour competition earlier in the week.
The 33-year-old Djokovic had played fellow Serb Troicki in the first event in Belgrade and in a post on Twitter, Djokovic admitted that it had been “too soon” to stage the tournament.
He also insisted that the tournament had been organised with “a pure heart”, “good intentions” and a belief that they had “met all health protocols”.
Since then, action has been swift with the remaining Adria Tour events in Banja Luka and Sarajevo being called off by Djokovic’s brother Djordje, who is a director of the tournament.
During the first two legs of the Adria Tour, Djokovic and his fellow players were seen mingling in close proximity on numerous occasions, opting not to adhere to social distancing. There were plenty of hugs to go around upon arrival, both at the press conference and after each match finished.
In Belgrade, Dimitrov was photographed guarding Djokovic closely on the basketball court, and the two joined the rest of the group for some fun on the football field as well. All celebrated the success of the first weekend by partying at a nightclub, at times even without their shirts.
Well-known Serbian actor Milos Bikovic, who attended the outing with Djokovic that evening, has since then also tested positive. And so has Djokovic’s wife Jelena.
Last month, in an interview Djokovic had insisted to an American journalist: “I don’t believe in limits. I think limits are only illusions of your ego or your mind”.
While this philosophy has served him well on court, Djokovic’s latest vision was the Adria Tour - a charity exhibition series that was scheduled to be played in four Balkan cities over four weekends- where he saw a chance to showcase his home city of Belgrade to the tennis world.
Not surprisingly, Djokovic is being slammed in the press and censured by his fellow players. Barstool Sports named him the “village idiot,” and Nick Kyrgios in his usual abrasive style described the Adria Tour as “boneheaded”.
There are rumours that the ATP Player Council may now move to oust him as its president with many seeing his infection as something inevitable. Earlier this season, Djokovic earned corona-related criticism for more than one reason. He wavered on whether he would take a vaccine for it, he reportedly broke lockdown rules to practice at a club in Spain and at the same time described the US Open’s original entourage restrictions as “extreme”, and travelled back to Serbia before being tested last Monday.
Recently, Djokovic had posted a much-derided Instagram chat with Chervin Jafarieh, a real-estate broker turned wellness entrepreneur who was promoting an expensive herbal treatment called ‘Cymbiotika’.
During their talk, Djokovic asserted, among other things, that “scientists have proven that molecules in the water react to our emotions,” and “through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, [people] manage to turn the most toxic food or the most polluted water into the most healing water”.
Very few players have been as meticulous about nutrition and training as Djokovic. He eats gluten-free and observes a plant-based diet. It’s hard to believe that someone who is so careful about what he puts in his body could be so cavalier about contracting a virus.
Djokovic’s positive test, and those of his wife and fellow players, are a lesson for everyone, not just for the tennis world — about reopening too quickly, about flouting science, about trusting in the wellness movement and power of positive thinking, and, most importantly, about the lurking danger of the coronavirus.