Crossing borders and nightclub parties: What went wrong with Novak Djokovic's disastrous 'coronavirus tour'

Luke Bradshaw
Sports Writer
Novak Djokovic posing for photographers with tournament volunteers in Belgrade, Serbia. (Nikola Krstic/MB Media/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, one of tennis's most high-profile players and his wife tested positive for coronavirus.

Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, had just returned from Croatia to his home country of Serbia after the premature end of the Adria Tour, a four-event exhibition across the former Yugoslavia that he organised.

He is one of four players on the tour to have tested positive for the disease, and his diagnosis is the culmination of a disastrous lockdown that has damaged the Djokovic brand.

The tour was supposed to bring some relief to the region and to tennis fans starved of competition.

It’s now being seen, as Andy Murray said on Monday, as “not something that should have gone ahead” and “not a good look for tennis”. Another player, Australian Nick Kyrgios, called the whole tournament “bone-headed”.

The Djokovic family pose during the Adria Tour final in Serbia. (Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images)

On 20 April, Djokovic had discussed how protocol on potential vaccinations would affect his participation in events. In a live Facebook chat with other Serbian athletes, he said: “Personally I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel.

“I have my own thoughts about the matter and whether those thoughts will change at some point, I don’t know.”

The Adria Tour’s opening round was played in Djokovic’s home country, Serbia, with the second leg in Zadar, Croatia, over the weekend.

The Croatian final was cancelled after Grigor Dimitrov tested positive. His opponent that day, Borna Coric, has also tested positive for the virus.

The remaining legs were due to be played in Montenegro on 27 and 28 June and Bania Luka, Bosnia, on 3 and 4 July, but have now all been cancelled.

Videos of players partying in a nightclub, with zero social distancing in place, have not been received well.

So far, eight people at the tournament have all contracted the virus, including another player and his pregnant wife (Victor and Aleksandra Troicki) .

Murray said: “It’s not surprising how many people have tested positive after seeing some of the images of the players’ party and the kids’ day. There was no social distancing in place.”

READ MORE: Two tennis players test positive for coronavirus after playing in Djokovic's 'bone-headed' tournament

READ MORE: In pictures: What the return of Premier League football looked like

Although fans attending matches on the Adria Tour had to socially distance, players did not and made no attempt to do so.

As well as the footage from the nightclub, there are numerous videos and photographs from press opportunities that show players hugging after games, playing basketball together and sitting next to each other.

That all changed after Dimitrov’s test. The last images of the Adria Tour were of players and coaching staff – now all wearing masks – in a car park, getting tested. All the players who competed that weekend were tested then and there, except Djokovic.

It’s now clear that Djokovic and his wife travelled internationally – from Croatia back to Serbia – with the virus.

On Tuesday night, Nikola Jokic – a Serbian basketball player in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets – tested positive.

Jokic, who spent time with Djokovic during the Tour’s first weekend, was due to report to training on Tuesday in the US for the league’s resumption, but has now been granted leave to stay in Serbia and self-isolate.

Djokovic released a statement on Tuesday, saying: “We believed the tournament met all health protocols and the health of our region seemed in good condition to finally unite people for philanthropic reasons. We were wrong and it was too soon.”

The statement goes directly against the concerns that were raised pre-tournament, as well as after the Tour’s first weekend.

Dimitrov travelled back to Monaco after the tournament. It now has its first case of coronavirus after not registering any for three weeks.

Croatia is experiencing a steady increase in cases, with 30 in the last 24 hours. Croatian health minister Vili Beros acknowledged the rise but said it was not exponential in the country and that there have been no new cases in Zadar, where the tour was played.

Kyrgios, known for his short temper on the court, asked for some perspective. Replying to the nightclub videos, he tweeted: “Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ - this takes the cake.”

The US Open, currently desperately trying to organise some sort of tournament this year, has been thrown into serious jeopardy.

There is now a question surrounding tennis and other sports over how they go forward in attempting to resume, or start, their many competitions. That’s before you get to the wider dangers to people’s health on an international scale.

One of the biggest sports stars on the planet put his own life and the lives of others at risk for, he said, “philanthropic reasons”. The end result has been the antithesis of that.