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Is Novak Djokovic to blame for Adria Tour disaster? – Match Points #6

Match Points is a talk show about tennis, hosted by Josh Cohen for Tennis Majors. In this episode, Josh asks the panel to discuss Novak Djokovic’s ill-fated Adria Tour, who’s to blame and what it might mean for the world No 1.

July 2, 2020
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Our panel for episode #6 consists of former Wimbledon champion and world No 7 Marion Bartoli, ATP world No 225 Noah Rubin (founder of Behind the Racquet) and American journalist Ben Rothenberg. The guests joined Cohen to give their opinions on the hottest topic of the day, the ill-fated Adria Tour, which was abandoned after several players, including Novak Djokovic, who organised the event, tested positive for Covid-19.

First, Cohen asked the panel: Who is most to blame for the Adria Tour disaster? Noah Rubin dived straight in.

“I think a lot of people could have spoken up in a situation like this and said hey, I know we got the go-ahead from the government but let’s look at some of the things we’re doing on the side, maybe take a few extra precautions, because we’re travelling from country to country…It’s so sad that the whole thing was inevitable…we saw it from a mile away. Can you put all the blame on Novak? Was he the ringleader? Yes, but there were so many people that could have said something throughout the whole process.”

Nenad Zimonjic, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic, Adria Tour 2020

Ben Rothenberg agreed with Rubin, praising Djokovic for his second statement, when he said it was “too soon”, in hindsight, to stage such an event. But Rothenberg also said it should never have happened.

“It looked like this event was happening in a parallel universe somewhere, where there was no pandemic. Just because the government allows you to do something does not mean it’s in the best interests of public health the whole time.”

Bartoli: “Novak did it with absolutely zero bad intentions whatsoever”

Bartoli disagreed, saying Djokovic was not to blame.

“As a player, I think Novak did it with absolutely zero bad intentions whatsoever. For him to go back and play in Belgrade was something extremely special. I think he wanted to just celebrate tennis at a very difficult time for everybody. A few days before, a 20,000 crowd was together for a football match and the Serbian govenment allowed it. It’s very easy to blame him afterwards to say that he should have been more cautious, but if nothing had happened, everyone would have said well done.”

Cohen went on to ask how it might affect Djokovic’s legacy.

“I do think his sponsors could step up and say…we don’t want to be associated with this kind of irresponsible behaviour and leadership and social modelling of behaviour that’s been pretty off-base. I like his second apology, more than the first. I think he can redeem himself from this, I think he can make good gestures, but he has to show that he’s learning and growing from this pattern of missteps in scientific behaviour that he’s shown in 2020.”

Bartoli said Djokovic is a genuine person and his sponsors will back him.

“I know what Lacoste think about him and he’s highly, highly rated in Lacoste. I don’t think that will affect him that much. We can’t blame him that much for what he did.”

Then Cohen moved on to the thorny question of whether Djokovic should step down, or even be removed, from his role as president of the ATP Player’s Council. Rubin was quick to answer.

“You’re talking about the president of the player council not doing what’s best for tennis and missing the Zoom call, basically the largest meeting in the history of the ATP and he couldn’t show his face for a minute. I don’t know what we can say to argue that he should stay in that position right now.”

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