Tennis At Any Cost?

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

An up-close and personal weekend of camaraderie – filled with handshakes and hugs and a lack of any semblance of social distancing – that included a basketball game with friends and Adria Tour competitors Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Borna Coric and Marin Cilic, came crashing down upon three-time Grand Slam semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov.

The World No. 19 Dimitrov withdrew from the Adria Tour Saturday afternoon and flew home to Monaco after completing his first – and only – group play match, which he lethargically lost to Coric, 4-1, 4-1. On Sunday, moments before World No. 1 Djokovic and World No. 14 Rublev were scheduled to play their Adria Tour final in Zadar, Croatia, the 29-year-old Dimitrov broke the news on his Instagram platform that he had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

Hi Everyone – I want to reach out and let my fans and friends now that I tested positive back in Monaco for Covid-19. I want to make sure anyone who has been in contact with me during these past two days gets tested and takes the necessary precautions. I am so sorry for an harm I might have caused. I am back home now and recovering. Thanks for your support and please stay safe and healthy. GD

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Dimitrov’s bombshell announcement led to the swift cancelation of the Djokovic-Rublev final, which Zadar event director Goran Ivanisevic announced to a disappointed crowd already in their seats and eager to see the title match. “We have just been informed that Grigor Dimitrov has tested positive for coronavirus and we will have to call off the final of the tournament in Zadar,” he said.

After all, Djokovic clinched a berth in the final after wining his first two matches – both in straight sets – on Saturday, then improved to 3-0 with a 4-1, 4-3 (3) over Nino Serdarusic of Serbia, Dimitrov’s replacement. Rublev reached the title match after beating Zverev 4-2, 4-1 Sunday afternoon which improved Rublev’s group-play record to 3-0.

Zadar was the second stop of Djokovic’s Adria Tour charity exhibition series, one of many exhibition events being held throughout the world in lieu of any sanctioned ATP or WTA tournaments, and it came a week after Belgrade, in which World No. 3 Dominic Thiem beat Filip Krajinovic in the title match. Thiem has since moved on to play in the Ultimate Tennis Showdown near Nice, France, while Krajinovic remained in Belgrade to compete in the Eastern European Championships at the Tipsarevic Tennis Academy. According to reports, Thiem tested negative for the coronavirus upon arrival in Nice. Meanwhile, since the tennis lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Dimitrov began quarantining in the United States and since has traveled to Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia and Monaco.

Following the news of Dimitrov’s positive test for COVID-19, The Adria Tour posted an official announcement on its Instagram page:

As a precaution and to protect the health of all participants and visitors, the organisers of Adria Team have decided to cancel the Grand Finale of the tennis spectacle planned for tonight.

At all times we have strictly followed the epidemiological measures in place with the countries where the Adria Tour was organised. None of the people involved in the organisation and who have been in contact with Grigor have any symptoms. However, we are in close contact with health authorities in order to insure that all people who were in contact with Grigor Dimitrov will be tested tonight. Since we do not want to risk, we decided to cancel the Final match. The concert of Peter Graso, which was supposed to take place after the final match, was also canceled. For the organizers of the Adria Tour, the health of all participants and visitor comes first.

Late Sunday evening, the Adria Tour added to its original Instagram post:

The organisers of the Adria Tour tennis tournament in Zadar, in accordance with the new situation around tennis player Grigor Dimitrov who tested positive for COVID 19, are in constant contact with the epidemiological service of Zadar County.

It is recommended that anyone who has been in close contact for more than 10 minutes with the tennis player be advised to self-isolate for 14 days and to contact their doctor. Residents of Zadar County who suspect an infection should contact the epidemiologist on duty at 098 332 765 and their doctor. From tomorrow, the Zadar County Public Health Institute will introduce an additional telephone line and additional duty teams.

The organisers of the Adria Tour thank the referees, participants as well as the audience for their understanding for canceling the final match.

The safety and health of all come first.

Both last weekend in Belgrade and this weekend in Zadar, there had been much criticism leveled at Djokovic and the Adria Tour over a lack of social distancing between players and fans and in allowing large gatherings to attend matches at both tournament sites, as a result of relaxed restrictions in Serbia and Croatia following the Covid-19 outbreak during the spring. It was evident from watching television coverage of the Adria Tour as well as photographs and other images posted on social media and the tournament’s website that the players were shown shaking hands and hugging, mingling with fans, coming in contact with ball kids and dancing together at a nightclub.

During a recent Eurosport Tennis Legends podcast, Djokovic said: “It’s hard to explain to people that the situation is really, really different maybe in America or the UK than it is in Serbia or surrounding countries, and obviously from the day one of the organization of the Adria Tour, [we have been]  following the rules and the measures that have been regulated by the government institution and the public health institution.”

Sports Illustrated tennis writer and Tennis Channel insider Jon Wertheim was critical of Djokovic. He wrote on Twitter Sunday evening: “… why a group of players (led by the head of a players council, no less) would act so recklessly – almost taunting biology/virology/math – as the rest of the sport (world?) struggles and contorts itself to re-open safely.”

On a special edition of his NCR Tennis Podcast, recorded Sunday evening after the Dimitrov test news spread, host Ben Rothenberg asked: “Can tennis players be trusted to behave responsibly enough to keep a fragile thread of optimistic hope intact?”

“Today’s events underscore  the difference between what a group of people are ‘legally required to do’ and what they ‘should do anyway because it’s wise and considerate,’” Tennis Channel presenter Brett Haber wrote on Twitter Sunday. “The difference between those two stances may now eliminate the tennis season.” 

For now, it remains to be seen what the ramifications of Dimitrov testing positive for COVID-19 means for the safe re-opening of the tennis season – as well as if any others who have played the first two weeks of the Adria Tour will be affected. Definitely, a pall has been cast over the tennis world just days after the US Open announced it would be played as scheduled – albeit with no spectators allowed – and the ATP and WTA announced plans to resume the 2020 season in August.

According to its website, the next scheduled stop of the Adria Tour is Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 3-4 before finishing in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on July 5. None of these events have been canceled.

Ultimate Tennis Showdown – second weekend complete

Dominic Thiem held off Stefanos Tsitsipas and won a deciding fourth-quarter point to break a tie en route to a 3-1 (15-12, 11-13, 16-13, 14-13) victory that gave the rising Greek star his first loss in the Ultimate Tennis Showdown exhibition tournament at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy near Nice, France, Sunday night.

The Way Back Machine – Andy Murray, Wimbledon debut, 2005

What they’re saying

Madison Keys on the upcoming Charleston One Bank Invitational in Charleston, S.C., which begins Tuesday: “It’s really difficult to keep practicing when you don’t really have a goal in mind. So being able to have some of these tournaments back on the calendar has been really real even just for my mentality, just because I know I’m working for something.

“I love that I not only get to work towards Charleston, but to be able to use this as momentum into getting back into matches and getting back into competing. I think all of us are super happy and lucky that we’re going to be able to do this.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Elina Svitolina / Happy International Yoga Day!

Petra Kvitova / Thank you for everything, Dad!