'Absolutely reckless': Tennis world in disbelief over 'shocking' scenes

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor
Nenad Zimonjic, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic pose for a photo. (Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

Tennis commentators and fans have been left in disbelief over the ‘shocking’ scenes at a charity tennis event organised by Novak Djokovic.

There was absolutely no social distancing and few among the thousands of fans wore face masks - but Djokovic approved.

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Fans filled the makeshift stands on Friday at Djokovic's Belgrade tennis club on the banks of the Danube River for the opening day of his charity tennis tour organised by him and his family.

Other top players in attendance included Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Jelena Jankovic.

The Serbian government recently lifted lockdown restrictions in the coronavirus pandemic, only recommending people stay one metre apart. On Wednesday, there was a 20,000-strong crowd for a soccer cup semifinal in Belgrade.

At the tennis, Djokovic defended the freedoms of the crowd.

“We have different circumstances and measures so it's very difficult to think of international standards,” he said before the ceremonial opening of his Adria Tour.

He said Serbia has “better numbers” compared to other countries regarding coronavirus infections.

Serbia has registered more than 12,000 COVID-19 cases and 252 deaths, although the numbers have been rising again since the government lifted most of the lockdowns and restrictions last month.

“You can also criticise us and say this is maybe dangerous but it's not up to me to make the calls about what is right or wrong for health,” Djokovic said.

Spectators packed the stands at the Adria Tour charity event. (Photo by Milos Miskov/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively.

“Of course, lives have been lost and that's horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on, and we as athletes are looking forward to competing.”

However this week the top-ranked Djokovic said he was thinking of skipping the US Open - if it is played - because he described precautions put on players as “extreme” and not “sustainable.”

These included a 14-day quarantine for foreign players; a limit of one person per competitor at matches; limited ability to move around New York; and mandatory lodging near the tournament site in Queens.

Tennis world in shock over jarring scenes

A number of commentators called out Djokovic’s hypocrisy while also condemning the ‘reckless’ lack of restrictions at the Adria Tour.

Commentator Nick McCarvel said the scenes were “shocking”.

“Players are calling for safety measures at the #USOpen and saying they might not play... but are OK w/ full stadiums, a packed, close-quarters kids day, hugs, mic-sharing, selfies at an exo?” he tweeted.

”Actually can't believe what I’m seeing.”

Leading tennis writers Stuart Fraser and Mike Dickson were also taken aback.

Rene Denfeld wrote: “Obviously, no social distancing at the press conference. Fans courtside, no social distancing.

“Different countries, different stages of the pandemic but after months of avoiding human contact like crazy, an event like this is a super jarring sight.”

And Ben Rothenberg said: “Watching the all the human closeness and hugging at Adria Tour, you’d almost forget why the Adria Tour exists in the first place.

“Hope it goes well, but golly does seeing crowds like this make me nervous in June 2020.”

Djokovic's Adria Tour is scheduled to move on to neighbouring Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

with Associated Press