'I'm extremely sorry for each individual case of infection,' the 17-times Grand Slam champion said. 'Our tournament meant to unite and share a message of solidarity'

Novak Djokovic isn’t just a tennis legend, he’s also revered back in Serbia. The fact he tested positive for COVID-19 after an exhibition tour in the Balkans is a blow to his country’s national pride and its efforts to keep the disease under control.

The announcement follows Sunday’s abrupt end to the Adria Tour after players including Grigor Dimitrov of — a semifinalist in the 2019 U.S. Open — and Borna Coric of Croatia tested positive for coronavirus. While the tournament was permitted under looser virus restrictions, in the region, participants raised eyebrows by flouting social distancing and attending nightclubs.

“I’m extremely sorry for each individual case of infection,” the 17-times Grand Slam champion said in a statement emailed by his public-relations company. “I hope it won’t complicate anyone’s health situation and that everyone will be fine. Our tournament meant to unite and share a message of solidarity and compassion throughout the region.”

The world knows him as the top-ranking tennis champion but the outbreak among the sport’s elite risks denting Djokovic’s image as the region’s poster child. While proud of his homeland, Djokovic has been a rare bridge for many Balkan states, with many — including Serbia — still struggling to recover from the bloody wars of the 1990s.

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. https://t.co/lVligELgID

— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) June 23, 2020

Nick Kyrgios, the second-highest-ranked Australian player, joined other sportsmen in rebuking the tournament on Twitter.

“Boneheaded decision to go ahead with ‘the exhibition,”‘ he said. “That’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This is not a joke.”

??‍♂️??‍♂️??‍♂️ Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’ speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. This IS NOT A JOKE. https://t.co/SUdxfijkbK

— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) June 22, 2020

The incident comes mere days after an important election in Serbia, which imposed one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, and had delayed the vote to contain the pandemic.

Serbia has reported 13,092 cases of coronavirus and 263 deaths.

Media criticized the tennis event — and Djokovic himself — for embracing few virus restrictions and for holding parties in Belgrade alongside the tournament, where matches were held in Serbia and Croatia before dates in Bosnia and Herzegovina were cancelled.

Djokovic said that while he’s displaying no symptoms of the virus, he’ll self-isolate for 14 days and be tested again in five days. His wife, Jelena, also tested positive while their children’s tests were negative.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who met Djokovic at the tournament, is refusing to isolate, saying the pair only spoke for two to three minutes with no close contact and that he tested negative on Monday.

Serbian player Victor Troicki and his wife also tested positive.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during Adria Tour at Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade, Serbia, June 12, 2020. Marko Djurica / Reuters

Djokovic on tennis amid a pandemic

Here is a list of quotes from Novak Djokovic on tennis, the pandemic, vaccines and more:

Djokovic on testing positive for COVID-19 (June 23):

“The moment we arrived in Belgrade we went to be tested. My result is positive, just as (wife) Jelena’s, while the results of our children are negative.

“I’m 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. I will remain in self-isolation for the next 14 days, and repeat the test in five days.”

Djokovic on mandatory coronavirus vaccinations (April 19):

“Personally I’m opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.

“But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen? I’ll have to make a decision. I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”

Djokovic on the power of positive emotions (May 6):

“This is something that is not linked to any form of official way of presenting nutrition and how you should eat and drink.

“I know some people that, through energetic transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they managed to turn the most toxic food, or maybe most polluted water into the most healing water.

“Scientists have proven that in (an) experiment, that molecules in the water react to our emotions to what has been said.”

Djokovic on the U.S. Open’s strict protocols (June 6):

“The rules that they told us that we would have to respect to be there, to play at all, they are extreme. We would not have access to Manhattan, we would have to sleep in hotels at the airport, to be tested twice or three times per week.

“Also, we could bring one person to the club which is really impossible. I mean, you need your coach, then a fitness trainer, then a physiotherapist.”

Djokovic on staging an exhibition tournament in Serbia amid the pandemic (June 12):

“We have different circumstances and measures (to other countries) so it’s very difficult to think of international standards (regarding the pandemic).

“We’ve had better numbers compared to some other countries. 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.

“You can also criticize us and say this is maybe dangerous but it’s not up to me to make the calls what is right or wrong health-wise. We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively.”

Djokovic on the prospect of the U.S. Open going ahead and the ATP Tour’s resumption (June 18):

“Hopefully every single player who is participating, chosen by ranking and who deserves their place at the U.S. Open, will have an equal opportunity to travel there and compete as everybody else.

“I’m extremely happy and excited to see that all the tournaments, especially Grand Slams, are organizing their events.

“I think that a lot of people were skeptical, especially for the U.S. events considering what the U.S. went through as a country during this pandemic. So a lot of people, including myself, were quite skeptical on whether it would happen or not.”

— Reuters



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