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Novak Djokovic tests positive for coronavirus after organizing exhibition tennis event

Novak Djokovic reacts during a tennis doubles match

Novak Djokovic reacts during a tennis doubles match at a charity tournament Adria Tour, in Belgrade, Serbia, on June 12, 2020. Credit: AP/Darko Vojinovic

World No. 1 player Novak Djokovic arranged a series of exhibitions in the Balkans called the Adria Tour that flouted COVID-19 protocols after his native Serbia came out of a lockdown.

Now he and several other players have paid the price.

Djokovic announced on Tuesday that he and his wife, Jelena, have tested positive for the coronavirus after participating in the first two events.

Three other players who participated in the matches held in Belgrade and Zadar, Croatia—Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki—have tested positive. Djokovic’s and Dimitrov’s respective coaches, Marko Paniki and Christian Groh, also tested positive. Three other Adria Tour players, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and Andrey Rublev, have tested negative but said they would be self-isolating for 14 days.

The exhibitions were to raise money for those affected by the pandemic. The stands were packed and players interacted with fans and each other. Djokovic and other players were seen partying in night clubs and restaurants. The remainder of the events have been canceled.

“Unfortunately, this virus is still present, and it is a new reality that we are still learning to cope and live with. I am hoping things will ease with time so we can all resume lives the way they were,” Djokovic said in a statement. “I am extremely sorry for each individual case of infection. I hope that it will not complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine.

“It was all born with a philanthropic idea, to direct all raised funds towards people in need and it warmed my heart to see how everybody strongly responded to this,” said Djokovic, who is not exhibiting symptoms of the virus and said his two children were negative. “We organized the tournament at the moment when the virus has weakened, believing that the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met.”

Djokovic had been critical of measures that were being discussed to hold the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows this year, but when they were formally announced last week, he expressed delight that the tournament, and the French Open, would be going ahead.

“I’m extremely happy and excited to see that all the tournaments, especially Grand Slams, are organizing their events,” the three-time U.S. Open champion said, though he did not say whether he would play in either of the events.

The USTA issued a statement on Tuesday:

“We are well aware that players have tested positive in recent days for the COVID-19 virus, and do wish all players a speedy and full recovery. This situation is exactly why we have created a comprehensive health and medical plan with the input of our Medical Advisory Group, as well as other experts, that was approved by New York State. The creation of a controlled US Open environment, including official hotels, transportation, food, medical and safety protocols, enables us to mitigate potential risk, and appropriately respond to any issues.”

Long Island’s ATP player, Noah Rubin of Rockville Centre, has been cautious about the prospects of the return to tennis this summer and consistently expressed his reservations on his website behindtheracquet.com

“This was inevitable,” Rubin in a text to Newsday on Tuesday. “I did not wish for anyone to contract COVID-19, and despite the Adria getting the go-ahead to play, risks were taken. Besides tennis taking five steps backward we don’t know how many lives will be affected now from this lack of common sense.”

Nick Kyrgios, the Australian player who had been critical of the Balkan exhibitions and of the U.S. Open going forward, posted a video on Twitter of Djokovic and other players dancing shirtless at a night club with the comment, “Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid — 19. Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ — this takes the cake.”

He also wrote: “Speedy recovery fellas. But that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE.”

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