Will the ATP and WTA Retaliate Against The French Open? - UBITENNIS
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Will the ATP and WTA Retaliate Against The French Open?

The French Federation is at fault, but not too much. Was Rafa Nadal selfish? What about Roger Federer? This isn’t the first civil war in tennis history.

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Roger Federer (@usopen - Twitter)

The French Open’s surprise move was bound to instigate a long streak of reactions, after postponing the tournament to September while stomping on over ten ATP and WTA events plus the Laver Cup. The president of the FFT, Giudicelli (who’s from Corsica like Napoleon), must have foreseen this backlash, and the same goes for tournament director Guy Forget. They decided to reserve the first available dates at all costs, and therefore went straight to their goal, thinking that the many powers-that-be in tennis wouldn’t like it, but that many players perhaps would, because those who aren’t invited to Boston’s Laver Cup would hardly give up a Slam’s prize money – the Slams are the only Slams that guarantee at least £35,000 to first-round losers.

 

THE USUAL SCHEDULING ISSUES

As I wrote a few minutes after learning about this shocking piece of news, this was a selfish decision, announced in a very arrogant and typically French way. I also agreed with Vasek Pospisil’s wording for it, although he was wrong in saying that nobody had been notified beforehand. It was also a sort of war declaration on the tennis establishment, or – at the very least – a clear provocation meant to cause a re-structuring of the season’s schedule. Such re-structuring has been invoked for years by those same governing bodies that rule the game, ma each of them would like to give it a shape that suits exclusively their own interests – of course, an accord was never reached.

POSSIBLE PLAYER RETALIATION

Maybe the challenge that the FFT has posed to the ATP, the WTA, Tennis Australia, and the USTA – not so much to Wimbledon, which always maintains some kind of detachment, embodying the French phrase “noblesse oblige” – will backfire, coming back to bite them like a boomerang, a weapon that the Aussies know very well. There are various forms of retaliation that the players could put into practice (either ATP or WTA members).

Number one: a full French Open boycott come September. Number two (which would materialise after they realise that unanimity cannot be reached in the union like it happened at the 1973 Championships, since many players would be bent on playing after so many cancellations, as Andrey Rublev clearly said: “It’s better to play in a Slam than not. We have no wages – if you don’t play, you don’t make a living”): let the tournament be played with no ATP points at stake. Number three: threaten to take away these points from the 2021 edition as well (the other Slams would probably enjoy that). Number four: cancel the Paris Masters, which also belongs to the FFT and gives another marquee event to the Ville Lumière.

PARIS’S ALLIES

On the other hand, the FFT could receive some unexpected aid from those clay events that were cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, events that could experience a resurgence should the Olympic Games and the whole North American summer swing be postponed – who knows what shape the Big Apple will be in come late August? This would be the ultimate embodiment of the Latin phrase-turned-zero-sum-game, mors tua vita mea. And that would mean that Rome – if yet out of the lockdown – and the other clay capitals could get back in play, more than happy to function as a prologue for the autumnal French Open, even after having thought the worst things about Forget and Giudicelli’s move.

On a side note for Italy, it looks a lot less likely that Turin or Milan could take the place of Bercy in November, cancelling the ATP Next Gen Finals in concert with the ATP… Today the Italian Federation is having a conference call, and I would bet on a neutral stance on the matter. I don’t expect any condemnation for the behaviour of the French, due to the fact that if the Italian management will see an opening for later play (may it be August, September, or October), before or after the Paris Slam, they will certainly not throw it away by souring the relationship with the FFT.

NADAL’S SILENT ASSENT

Rafael Nadal (@atptour – Twitter)

Going back to the French revolutionary move – after all, who has more rights than the French to spark a revolution? – there’s no doubt that it appeared as a unilateral move at a time when this pandemic should suggest more solidarity. They obviously got the assent of their king, Rafa Nadal, that’s almost a due act. If Rafa had said no from the get-go, their stance would have looked a whole lot weaker. Forget and Giudicelli told the world that Nadal said yes, and his silence is looking like a confirmation. Can we therefore criticise Rafa’s selfishness (for instance, he supports the Davis Cup, organised by the ITF and Gerard Piqué, only as long as it takes place in Madrid)? Of course we can, but on the other hand what should we say about Federer and of his brainchild, the Laver Cup, which from nowhere has snatched up a week of the ATP season (a week that would have been useful to the Davis Cup, which was so crammed that if forced crazy finishing time throughout the whole week last year)?

THE CHOICES OF THE ATP: BRAVO TO GAUDENZI AND CALVELLI

I can only imagine how happy can be Andrea Gaudenzi and Massimo Calvelli, the new ATP top dogs, to find themselves in the midst of a melee that involves two of the three best players in the world along with every other party – we can only express our sympathy for these unlucky men. To have to deal with this virus-induced mess in your first year in charge, with the conflicting interests of the tournaments and the selfishness of everybody, wasn’t even remotely imaginable. It’s something that literally could not be wished on your worst enemy. They’ve been brave, they’ve taken well-pondered decisions, and for the time being I applaud them, for what it’s worth. Perhaps American, French, or British CEOs wouldn’t have taken such decisive action against the Coronavirus. The examples set by Trump, Macron, and Johnson – I apologise for the momentary field invasion – lead me to believe that this would have been the case. As for the Germans… well, I apologise for this too, but they sure have a much more cryptic way to release their death toll, and a much trickier one for that matter, perhaps in a cunning attempt to save their own economy.

LAVER CUP, ATP CUP, AND WIMBLEDON’S STRENGTH: MAYBE THE FRENCH OPEN IS AT FAULT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH 

Now, going back to stuff I’m definitely more knowledgeable about… if I were the FFT’s attorney – pretty tough gig these days – I would claim that the Australian Open and the US Open have always promoted their own interests above all else, more or less jointly, de facto co-opting the organising of the Laver Cup even before they were slated for play in Chicago and Boston, thus establishing an exclusive partnership with Tony Godsick and Roger Federer. Tennis Australia, moreover, has pretty much created the ATP Cup, an event that has the firepower to kill the Davis Cup forever, both in its original and in its Piqué format. So, glass houses…

Wimbledon, thanks to its prestige and tradition, has always managed to be considered the biggest Slam, despite being played on a seldom-utilised surface like grass. If the AELTC had acted like the FFT did, I think it would have drawn much less cornering criticism. As things stand, the French Open is becoming the weakest among the Slams, after many years in which the Australian Open was the smallest child at the table, and this will inexorably happen if everybody else will turn against them – the possibility that Indian Wells and Miami took over those dates was real, as they can count on the support of the US Open, of IGM, of the USTA, and of several American management companies. After Brexit, the French Open is pretty much the last European stronghold, and all European clay events rely on its prestige, which has been thinning year in and year out in favour of the hardcourt swings that Americans and Aussies love so much.

Brad Stine, who coached Jim Courier at his peak, told the New York Times: “In such a wretched year, the possibility of playing two Slams, even if just a week apart from each other, would be like a gift from the heavens!”

THE GAME’S POWER STRUGGLES

So, after our website has reported all sorts of opinions on the matter (even diverging ones within the FFT), I’d like to conclude on the same ideas as the other day. It could very well be that there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Power struggles have always happened in tennis: I remember the WCT v ATP and ITF kerfuffle in the early 70s, the one between ITF and the Team Tennis league organized by Larry King and Billie Jean King in various American cities (Jimmy Connors wasn’t allowed to play the 1974 French Open because of it, which prevented him from going for the Grand Slam), and I can even remember, further back, the conflict between Jack Kramer’s professional tour and the ITF-supported shamateurism… which prevented Ken Rosewall from playing in 44 Slams over 11 years!

If there was just one governing body, things would certainly be better off, but no one will ever want to give up even the tiniest claim to power, and this is the real problem in tennis – after that, much more heinous, of Covid-19.

 

 

 

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US Open, The Future Belongs To The Russians, But The Present To The Mothers

Rublev bottled the first set’s tie-breaker, but Medvedev, who was once regarded as someone who wouldn’t make it in tennis by the head of French coaches, is now a legitimate threat, and a scary one. The same goes for Vika, who will play Serena after leaving just one game to Mertens.

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Daniil Medvedev - US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)

It’s not necessarily the world’s best kept secret, but as time passes I realise more and more how florid the present of Russian tennis is and how it’s probably all downhill from here.

 

Daniil Medvedev will soon become a Slam champion, even if he does not win the 2020 US Open. The composure and effortlessness he oozes, serving lightning bolts while putting around 70% of his first serves in play (more often than not getting the free point); swirling a forehand whose backswing always looks far too wide (it reminds me a little of Steffi Graf’s) but is utterly unreadable due to that wrist whipping that hides his trajectories to perfection; placing the two-hander with metronomical precision both crosscourt and down the line – I could go on and on, but the point is, he is scary good.   

Much has been written about Rublev, before and after his match against Berrettini. He is one of the most improved players on the ATP Tour, and is predicted to soon break into the Top 10 (I won’t be saying to this prophecy, even though I’m curious to see how he’ll fare at the French Open and more generally on clay). Unfortunately, neither he nor Medvedev will be in Rome – the latter’s withdrawal is already official, his is in the air.

Despite giving birth to champions like Kafelnikov and Safin in the past, Russia reached an unprecedented milestone on March 2, having three of her sons in the Top 15 at the same time, as Rublev joined Medvedev and Khachanov after back-to-back titles in Doha and Adelaide.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Sochi’s fresh prince, doesn’t appear to have a jealous bone in his body, quite the opposite: “I can tell you, kids at junior events in Russia don’t want to play like me or Marat, they want to play like Medvedev, Rublev, or Khachanov – it just makes sense. This is amazing for our country.”

A French youth coach, Cedric Raynaud, was interviewed by a colleague, Vincent Cognet, to talk about the junior careers of the two: “You could tell that Rublev would go places. He was very precocious. He could have played Futures events at 15. It took him three tournaments to become a Top 10 in the juniors. He was probably just over three stones [Editor’s Note: just to clarify, he’s exaggerating] but could hit rockets from all over the court. Medvedev was a late bloomer. He couldn’t handle the rally because he couldn’t hit hard on the run… He broke racquets, insulted his team. He verbally abused his father, who in his own turn was always very calm. He appeared to have so many technical limitations. For instance, he had no idea how to hit a volley. I would have never thought he would one day play a Slam final! And today, he’s one of the best players in the world… Both he and Rublev have the will and the skill to keep working on their game. They’re just enormous athletes.”

When the talent is there, hard work pays off… it might sound trite, but that’s the way it is.

Meanwhile, my stat guys tell me that this is the first time ever that two Russian players reach the second week in New York for two years in a row…

With this sort of background, it was clear that Medvedev vs Rublev was the match I anticipated the most, and the same goes for John McEnroe, who was watching from the stands, just like Sascha Zverev and 

Dominic Thiem (although these two don’t really have much else to do inside the bubble).

I described it as a Grasshopper-and-Ant dichotomy, and it didn’t disappoint – actually, it was a pretty great match, with great quality on both sides. The problem is that the Grasshopper, Rublev, threw away the opening set: he was 5-1 up in the tie-breaker, then 6-3, only for the Ant, Medvedev, to get five consecutive points to steal it. Andrey got into self-abuse mode pretty quickly for his inability to put a first serve in play (one of them could have become a decisive ace) in a time of dire need – he threw his racquet on the ground (but didn’t smash it, since he dropped it flat) and then hit his duffel bag several times.

Andrey Rublev – US Open 2020 (photo by Darren Carroll/USTA)

At some point during the second set, he yelled bullishly (real scary) but no curse words seemed to be involved. Keothavong, the umpire, called a verbal abuse violation anyway. Perhaps such a warning can be called even in the event of inarticulate screams, which can actually be unacceptable when loud or prolonged enough, although I would tend to be rather flexible in certain situations. Rublev complained at the changeover, but to no avail.

The younger Russian could not get over the loss of the first set, at least not as quickly as needed – it’s one of the reasons why he lost the second as well. In the third, Medvedev seemed a little uncomfortable for the first time in two weeks, but only towards the end.

Last night’s Russian derby might have been the 100th between the two, even as professionals, but the ATP only recorded two matches in official tournaments, both straight-set Medvedev wins. They are close friends and grew up playing against each other since they were about 10. However, they have always been very different.

Medvedev said: “We must have been 11 or 12 when we played each other in a match between our clubs. We must have been the worst-behaved players in the world. We shouted and cried all the time, we smashed our racquets… we even threw them in the stands! We hated losing. Andrey hit very hard even then, although not as hard as he does now… while all I could do was lobbing and junkballing. They were crazy matches.”

Medvedev also recalled a night out at Times Square when they were teenagers involving the two of them and Jelena Ostapenko. Rublev remembered that they ended up in Central Park because many places at Times Square were already closed (it must have been pretty late), and also that it wasn’t a very good idea, because some other kids started following them and hiding behind the trees: “We ran back to our hotel!”

During the match, Medvedev was able to capitalise on Rublev’s folly at the end of the opening set – he hit a double fault that propelled his fellow countryman, who couldn’t have asked for more, back into the match – and ended up winning once more in straight sets, as he has done every time in New York so far (the only man to do it). However, he had a few physical issues (soreness in the shoulder followed by leg cramps) towards the and of the match.

Somehow, Medvedev managed to hide the latter and got some help from the physio, who treated his shoulder but also assisted him a little with the cramps, a type of ailment that cannot be treated during an MTO but rather be eased during a regular changeover for a maximum amount of two times. This is what big-match experience looks like, the kind that Jannik Sinner lacked against the third Russian, Karen Khachanov, in their first round encounter – lucky for him, the Italian seems to have shaken it off pretty rapidly and got off to a great start in Kitzbuhel, something that shouldn’t be taken for granted given how shocked he appeared in New York due to the injury.

Before the Russian derby, Serena Williams showed some stamina progress, chasing down some balls that would have eluded her a week ago. She seems to start slow every time, but she’s still getting the wins. For the third match in a row, she survived a decider, a truly remarkable feat as it would be reasonable to expect a 39-year-old who is a little heavier than she used to be (I wouldn’t say overweight because there were times when she was in much worse shape) to run out of fuel. What happened instead is that she won those sets for 6-2, 6-3, and again 6-2, respectively ousting Stephens, Sakkari, and Pironkova.

Her problems now are the growing tension of the approaching final, a final in which she would go for her 24th Slam title, but also the amazing form of the other mom still in play, Vika Azarenka. The Belarusian imparted a bona fide lesson to Elise Mertens, as the 6-1 6-0 score abundantly shows – if Serena watched the match, she must have felt the pressure mounting even more. In addition, this is the only time in the fortnight with no two-day rest between matches, and if Serena (and the rest of the country) were banking on a headstart of a few hours on Vika – I suspect that the scheduling wasn’t an accident, but rather dictated by a wish to give a little more rest to Serena, regardless of the opponent – well, the ease and celerity with which Azarenka won her match completely nullified that (hypothetical) competitive advantage.

Vika Azarenka – US Open 2020 (via Twitter, @usopen)

Tennis is almost always unpredictable, and the women’s game even more than the men’s, but the Azarenka we saw yesterday shouldn’t lose against post-lockdown Serena. But… there is always a but, and that is the 18-4 head-to-head score in favour of the American, an element that always carries some weight. It is also true, however, that they have only met once in the last four years and a half (Serena won 7-5 6-4 in Indian Wells 18 months ago). Should their matches from 12 years ago factor in? Probably not.

The motherly rendezvous is unmissable content, even though it will take place after the first women’s semifinal (Brady vs Osaka), which is slated for midnight – that means that the second match probably won’t start before 2am. Will you make it? Will I make it?  

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Novak Djokovic Is Out, And The Field At The US Open Has Never Been More… Open

Medvedev is my pick. Berrettini might be the toughest opponent for the Russian, but only if he squeezes past Rublev first. What needs to happen so that history doesn’t put an asterisk next to the winner’s name?

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There was really just one man who could legitimately be called the favourite to win the 2020 US Open’s title, at least until last night, when Novak Djokovic was ousted by none other than himself, after hitting a pinpoint forehand that will be remembered as the unluckiest of his career. The default was inevitable – any other decision would have frankly been unacceptable. Novak tried to talk himself out of it, as humanly understandable, but finally accepted the ruling. 

 

There might be some debate over the adequacy of the rule in all situations, as some instances of reckless behaviour are not as deserving of a punishment as hard as an immediate ban – the Italian Maria Vittoria Viviani, for example, was ridiculously banned at the 2017 Australian Open for hitting a harmless ball in the ground that ended up lightly striking a ballboy. However, it would have been just plain wrong not to apply the rule in this context, as the lineswoman was hit in the throat and fell to the ground in shock, while also struggling to breathe. An awful precedent would have been set, proving that some players are above the law.  

It must be said, additionally, that Djokovic is something of a repeat offender. It can happen, over 1,107 matches as a professional player, to lose one’s temper by smashing a racquet or by hitting a ball a little too aggressively, but this isn’t the first time that Nole crosses the line. He almost got disqualified at the 2016 French Open, when he threw his racquet on the ground and would have hit a linesman if the guy hadn’t shown Jedi-like reactions by ducking in time:

Furthermore, at the 2016 ATP Finals at the O2 Arena, a similar outburst had provoked a question from a pretty in-your-face colleague, and the Serbian had almost lost control:

Sure, it would have been just fine if last night’s trajectory had been even slightly more to the right or the left, or even if the lineswoman had seen it coming and managed to dodge it. He would have gotten a warning for ball abuse (a punishment he could have received a few minutes earlier for a similar gesture, arguably even angrier), maybe a post-match fine, but he could have kept on playing that set in which he had squandered three consecutive set points at 5-4. He was very unlucky, even though Federer and Nadal fans will say that he deserved it. But history isn’t made of what ifs.

I wasn’t surprised when Novak didn’t show up for his press conference. What was he supposed to say just a few minutes after what happened? It might have been the 2016 Finals all over again, although I have to say that, so far, my British colleagues from the tabloidS haven’t been particularly venomous during our Zoom Q&A’s. 

However, Nole apologized on Instagram as soon as he got back to the pricey house he had rented in Long Island, as he should have. During a regular press conference, he would have been bombarded with too many questions he wouldn’t have had much of an answer to. 

Our readers reacted in many ways, often ironically, quoting Nick Kyrgios’s inevitable tweet in response to the fiasco and digging for precedents, almost always resulting in the player getting disqualified, except for last week’s episode involving once-Brit Aljaz Bedene during the Western & Southern Open. The Slovenian hit a cameraman, one of the few people in the house, with a ball that had lost power after hitting the backwall first, but hadn’t been defaulted, given the aforementioned mitigating circumstances. Perhaps someone might argue that he should have been disqualified as well. 

But enough with Djokovic, although it must be highlighted that he also fell quite badly on his shoulder last night, something that might jeopardise his presence in Rome even more than in Paris. What we have now is a US Open whose field is a lot more open now. 

For starters, at the end of the 470th Major (starting with the 1877 Championships) we will finally get a new winner, the 150th in history. In addition, it will also be the first Slam title going to a player born in the 1990s, unless Auger-Aliassime wins it, and in that case we would step even further into a new era, since the Canadian was born on August 8, 2000. 

Djokovic, 33, was the oldest player still in the tournament, followed by the co-president of his new players’ union, the PTPA, i.e. Vasek Pospisil, who turned 30 in June, and by his vanquisher, Pablo Carreno Busta, born in 1991. Everybody else is much younger, with even a pair of Next Gen studs. 

Now that the world N.1 is out, many will be gunning for the trophy. Those who have preeminence rights are the ones right behind him – 2nd seed Dominic Thiem, 3rd seed Daniil Medvedev, 5th seed Sascha Zverev, and 6th seed Matteo Berrettini. The top half of the draw is wide open, since the spot that would have belonged to Djokovic is now Carreno’s, someone who would hardly be considered a potential winner of the event, even though he was playing a solid match last night, being on the verge of winning the opening set.  

Resumé-wise, the obvious contender for a spot in Sunday’s final is Alexander Zverev. After a few years of wayward (and underwhelming) performances in the Slams, the German is the only player in the top half who has proven able to win big, banking three Masters 1000 titles and the 2018 ATP Finals. 

The fourth round of the bottom half of the draw still needs to be played, and is scheduled for today, featuring serious contenders such as Medvedev and Thiem plus an anticipated showdown between Berrettini and Rublev. In an upcoming video preview with friend and colleague Steve Flink, we convened that last year’s finalist, Daniil Medvedev, is the leading candidate to claim that title he lost in 2019, just barely, to Rafa Nadal.

The Russian is in front of Thiem in the pecking order. The Dominator will probably have his hands full with Auger-Aliassime, while I believe that Medvedev will dismiss Tiafoe pretty easily. After the match-up with the American, he would probably risk losing a little more against a great serving performance by Berrettini than against his fellow countryman Rublev, whom he has known since the age of 11 and whom he’s beaten twice as a pro without dropping a set nor relinquishing control of the match, although duels between friends can be tricky. 

Berrettini, as mentioned, can be more dangerous for him, but the Italian needs to beat Rublev first, and that’s easier said than done. The younger Russian poses a much greater threat to him than any of the opponents he’s faced so far, as someone who returns better and who can dictate with both groundstrokes. Rublev is stronger on the forehand side, but it’s on the other diagonal trajectory that he will try to suffocate the Roman, whose inside-out TNT-fueled forehand will need to be particularly on form to fetch him the same plethora of quick points it did against inferior opponents like Soeda, Humbert, and Ruud.

Leaning into my nationalist bias, I have reason to believe that Rublev will give Berrettini a run for his money, even though the Italian has beaten him three out of five times (three out of four as professionals, since the first win of the Russian happened at Boys’ Wimbledon), in Gstaad, in Vienna, and here at Flushing Meadows a year ago. Berrettini has grown a lot as a player, but the same can be said about his ginger foe. 

If Medvedev beats the winner of the Berrettini-Rublev match, I believe he is a surefire finalist, because I don’t see anybody capable of beating him in the semis out of the Labor Day quartet of Pospisil, De Minaur, Auger-Aliassime, and Thiem. 

One final question, and an important one: given the nature of Nole’s elimination (and the concomitant absence, the first of the century, of Federer and Nadal), will the winner of the 2020 US Open get an asterisk next to his title? This theory had only been ventilated for the women’s tournament up until now, since six Top Tenners were missing and Serena Williams didn’t look at her best, and perhaps still doesn’t. 

I’ve said this to Steve Flink as well, but my thought on the matter is: the asterisk will be permanent if and only if the winner should remain a one-Slam wonder, i.e. if he won’t be able to rack up a few more titles in the next few years. If he will win some, then there won’t be any historical justification for keeping the asterisk in place. In the end, how many people do still remember the year when John McEnroe got disqualified, and not just where it happened?  

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Coronavirus And The Adria Tour: Should Djokovic Be Held Accountable?

Formally not, despite many people, including him and his wife, testing positive to the virus causing COVID-19. More than a few, if we consider that Novak Djokovic is the president of the ATP Player Council.

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By Alessandro Stella

The debate surrounding the cases of the coronavirus at the Adria Tour, which soon turned into a Djokovic berating platoon, is clearly the theme of the week in tennis. After the announcement of the positive test of Grigor Dimitrov, who was on the court in Zadar against Borna Coric on Saturday, the Croatian player also announced the ensuing morning that he had contracted the coronavirus. Next came Marco Panichi, Djokovic’s physio, and Kristijan Groh, Dimitrov’s coach, while according to some early rumours (confirmed by the Telegraph) Djokovic would have refused to submit to the swab in Croatia as asymptomatic to test himself directly on his return to Belgrade, together with his family members – he later tested positive, along with his wife Jelena, fellow countryman Viktor Troicki (his wife was also infected) and NBA star Nikola Jokic.

Why Djokovic is getting all the slander is easily explained: as the president of the ATP Player Council, he promoted the organising of the Adria Tour, an event slated to take place in four countries (the final two stops have now been cancelled) with his brother Djordje as the director, and whose opening fixtures, those of Belgrade and Zara, took place at full capacity and without any regard for social distancing, both on and off the court. In addition to post-match hugging, the players were also in close contact during the collateral activities of the event: a football game in Belgrade, a basketball game in Zadar, and even a night out at a local club. Even before he came under attack for promoting an exhibition without strict health protocols, the world No.1 had already been accused of having deserted at ATP Zoom meeting of June 10, in which the guidelines for the restarting of the season were discussed.

THE ADRIA TOUR DIDN’T BREAK ANY RULES

Let’s try to make order. The first question should pertain the legitimacy of the event, while the second should interrogate its propriety. Let’s start with the former: the Adria Tour was held in compliance with the Coronavirus protocols enforced in the countries that hosted the first two gigs, namely Serbia and Croatia. “It can be criticized,” Nole said during a press conference at the Belgrade event. “We can say, for example, that maybe it’s dangerous. But it is not for me to evaluate what is right from a public health standpoint: we are simply following the rules of the Serbian government.”

What Djokovic claims is true. On the website of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the policies adopted by the various countries to combat the COVID-19 pandemic can be consulted, and from the Serbian one we can learn that as of May 7 the containment measures – which for approximately a month had entailed a 12-hour curfew a month from 5pm to 5am – were relaxed. For the last month, it has no longer been necessary to provide evidence of negative testing upon entering the country, and starting from June 5 the restrictions on public participation in outdoor events have been removed, albeit with a metre of interpersonal distance still being “strongly recommended.”

To recap, there are no formal bans in Serbia, although the government still suggests – without obligation – to take some precautions. A choice, that of President Aleksandar Vučić – who has just been re-elected with a landslide majority, 62.4% of the votes – which according to some European media had the specific purpose of restoring a patina of serenity in the wake of the elections, initially scheduled for April 26 and then postponed by two months because of the virus.

As for Croatia, at the end of May the ban on organizing public events with more than 40 participants was lifted, and the feasibility of each event has since been referred to the evaluations of the Croatian Institute of Public Health, which evidently gave the go-ahead to the Adria Tour. Following the positive tests of Dimitrov and Coric, the head of the infectious diseases department Bernard Kaić spoke on television to calm the citizens of Zadar, explaining that “it is necessary to spend a lot of time with the infected person in order to become infected,” and that therefore those who were simply sitting in the stands are not at a high infection risk.

IS DJOKOVIC IN THE CLEAR THEN?

Theoretically, yes, even in the event that the legal responsibility of organizing the Adria Tour could be traced back to him. The question that cannot be overlooked, however, concerns the public role of Djokovic, and therefore the appropriateness of promoting an event that has completely disregarded social distancing (remember, strongly advised by the Serbian government) while the pandemic is still reaping victims in several parts of the planet.

In addition to being the strongest tennis player on the planet, which in itself would be enough to expect additional attention for actions and statements that may have direct consequences on the community, Djokovic is the first reference of tennis players by virtue of his role as the president of the Player Council. It is a political position in all respects, which implies political responsibilities (limited to the world of tennis, of course). Nobody forced him to take on this responsibility, which once assumed should be honoured in full.

Are we therefore assuming that Djokovic did not fully honour it in this case? Yes, to a certain extent. The Adria Tour could certainly be organized, but if the positivity of so many of the participants – there is no guarantee that they got infected by participating in the performance – had emerged on the side-lines of an event held with the suggested precautions, Djokovic would not have become the target he has become in the last few days.

One more aspect should be factored in. Djokovic rightly pointed out that it is not up to him to evaluate what is right vis-à-vis public health, but, precisely by virtue of the same principle, he doesn’t seem to have the prerogative to send such a free-for-all message like he did by planning the Adria Tour in this fashion. This does not imply that there were any bad intentions on the part of the Serbian player, just as there was no bad intentions in the words of the Italian politicians who, a few days before the outbreak of the epidemic in Lombardy, invited to everyone to go on with their lives as usual, and the same goes for British politics. Whether it is out of personal conviction, because he believes – rightly or wrongly – that the virus is no longer dangerous, or for a more Machiavellian purpose (perhaps to convince the US Open to relax its strict measures?), Djokovic has endorsed an initiative that could have had negative consequences on other people.

He was reckless, like the other players who were present, and it would be ethically incorrect not to point it out. It is one thing to be convinced that the virus never existed or is no longer dangerous, another thing is to translate this thought into actions of public interest.

To say that he was reckless doesn’t mean that he deliberately favoured the transmission of the virus, because there may also be no causal link between the Adria Tour and the early positive testing of Dimitrov and Coric, but rather that he chose to ignore the precautions who at this moment have the crucial task of guiding us at a time of collective uncertainty, of hypotheses and conflicting scientific opinions.

Djokovic does not know if the virus is still dangerous or not, as we do not know it or even those who have studied the subject for years (this should already be enough to induce in us a certain evaluative moderation, sadly forgotten). Djokovic may also be right, but it an unaware manner; he cannot be sure of the message he is sending. This is what precautions are for, however useless they may seem, and indeed the hope is exactly that one day they may be proved to have become useless – it will mean that everything has gone according to plan.

What is mistakenly interpreted as a devaluation of the scientific method and adduced as an argument in favour of the free-for-all thesis, namely that virologist A is convinced that asymptomatic cases are not dangerous for the transmission of the virus while virologist B argues otherwise, is actually the normal scientific debate that occasionally ends up in the public eye due to the planetary scope of the subject matter.

Science is actually stumbling in the dark, because that’s how it goes before the evidence makes everyone coalesce around a thesis, and we have a civic duty not to make things worse in this period of reckoning and stabilisation for researchers. If some virologists mess up in the haste of expressing themselves, if politicians and decision-makers overwhelmed by the crisis make shaky and incomprehensible choices, that doesn’t legitimise more than usual to do what we want to fight a supposed design that would enslave us to the drug companies (by the way, they are certainly not be the only corporate entities in the world that are trying to make up for missing revenues; many others have lost and will lose money because of the crisis, and are certainly not raising glasses of Dom Perignon, so the ice for this conspiracy theory feels paper-thin at best).

What the scientific community perhaps has not been able to communicate with sufficient clarity is the following concept: we do not  know what we should know about the virus yet, nor do we have a valid strategy to cure and eradicate it, so in the meantime we ask you to sacrifice a few of your liberties so that enough time can be had to find a definitive countermeasure. Planning and hosting a tennis exhibition with some kind of social distancing in the stands and fewer on-court hugs, all in all, would have been a bearable sacrifice.

 

Translated by Andrea Ferrero; edited by Tommaso Villa




 

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