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Thursday, June 24, 2021

Explained: Why anti-vaccine Djokovic’s popularity rating dropped during pandemic — and Kyrgios made it worse

An undoubted champion on court, Djokovic’s off-court behaviour has brought him disrepute during the lockdown.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: August 25, 2020 7:42:32 am
Serbia's Novak Djokovic during a tournament in Rome, Italy. File/AP/PTI

Before the lockdown started, Australian Nick Kyrgios had the reputation of being outspoken off-court, even if it meant lambasting a fellow tennis player. In a podcast last year he had called Rafael Nadal “super salty”, and described Novak Djokovic’s post-match celebrations as “cringe-worthy.”

Over the past few months though, Kyrgios has been putting out posts on social media against the world no 1. But then again, Djokovic’s controversial actions during the pandemic have lost him more fans than earlier.

In his latest outburst, Kyrgios commented on a snippet of a news story that claimed Djokovic had no regrets about the ill-fated Adria Tour along with a picture of the players who had participated in the event.

“Scary that people take zero ownership. Group of albatrosses,” Kyrgios wrote.

An undoubted champion on court, Djokovic’s off-court behaviour has brought him disrepute during the lockdown. And just as the dust seemed to be settling and the tennis tours were poised to enter the US Open, the 17-time Grand Slam champion is seemingly back in controversy.

No regrets over the Adria Tour

In June, amidst the pandemic, Djokovic organised the Adria Tour – a charity exhibition event that was to take place over four legs across the Balkan region. Alarmingly, no safety protocols or social distancing measures were in place, and mask-less capacity crowds were allowed to attend matches.

The high-profile players attending were seen embracing and high-fiving, engaging in friendly football and basketball matches, and attended a party at a nightclub.

The tournament was cancelled before the conclusion of the second leg in Croatia, after four players and some support staff – including Djokovic and his coach Goran Ivanisevic, the 2001 Wimbledon champion – tested positive.

Last week, speaking to The New York Times, Djokovic, however. said he had no regrets over the Tour.

“We tried to do something with the right intentions,” he was quoted saying. “Yes, there were some steps that could have been done differently, of course, but am I going to be then forever blamed for doing a mistake?… I know that the intentions were right and correct, and if I had the chance to do the Adria Tour again, I would do it again.

“I don’t think I’ve done anything bad to be honest. I do feel sorry for people that were infected. Do I feel guilty for anybody that was infected from that point onward in Serbia, Croatia and the region? Of course not. It’s like a witch hunt…. How can you blame one individual for everything?”

Unfair accommodation comparison

The players and their respective teams have been put up in two luxury Long Island hotels, but the USTA did give the option of private housing to players who were willing to pay the rent and hire 24-hour security.

Djokovic is one of eight players to have taken this option. However, his comments have not gone down well with fans.

“With the trees and serenity, being in this kind of environment is a blessing,” Djokovic said to The NYT. “And I’m grateful, because I’ve seen the hotel where the majority of players are staying. I don’t want to sound arrogant… but it’s tough for most of the players, not being able to open their window and being in a hotel in a small room.

“It’s super important I made this investment because it’s going to make me feel better. I’m going to recover better and can actually have some outdoor time when I’m not on site.”

At a press conference before the Western and Southern Open, he said: “Every player had an opportunity to make that investment. It’s completely up to the individual.”

Meanwhile, former world no 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray decided against the accommodation, claiming the prices were “astronomical.”

Djokovic has won more prize money – $143,631,560 – than any other player in the sport.

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Anti-vaccine stance

“Novaxx” was a moniker that was publicised on social media after Djokovic reasserted his stance against vaccinations, despite the worldwide search for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus. He clarified his stance again to The New York Times.

“My issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body. That I don’t want. I am not against vaccination of any kind. I’m sure that there are vaccines that have little side effects that have helped people and helped stop the spread of some infections around the world.

“How are we expecting that to solve our problem when this coronavirus is mutating regularly from what I understand?”

Earlier, Djokovic had infamously spoken on an Instagram Live chat about his beliefs that impure water could be cleaned through positivity alone. His wife Jelena had also taken to social media to claim 5G Internet speeds could spread coronavirus.

Djokovic Sr’s potshot at Federer

In June, Djokovic’s father Srdan had taken an unprovoked shot at the popular Roger Federer in June, claiming that the Swiss, who recently turned 39, is still playing tennis because he is jealous of Djokovic.

“A 40-year-old man still plays tennis, when he can go home and do some more interesting things,” Srdan had said to SportKlub. “But since both Nadal and Novak are breathing down his neck, he simply cannot accept the fact that they will be better than him. Go man, raise children, do something else, go ski, do something. Tennis is not my whole life, it is just my son’s current hobby. He is only a tennis player at the moment.”

Shortly after the Adria Tour debacle, the senior Djokovic blamed former world no 3 Grigor Dimitrov, who was the first player at the event to have tested positive, for bringing the virus to the tournament.

“That man (Dimitrov) probably came sick, who knows from where. He didn’t test here, he tested somewhere else… I think that’s not fair,” he said to RTL Croatia TV.

“(Dimitrov) inflicted damage to both Croatia and to us as a family in Serbia. Nobody is feeling well because of this situation.”

Interestingly, Djokovic and his family, who had been against getting tested for Covid-19, refused to get the test in Croatia when the players were infected. Instead they flew back to Serbia, and only then did they take the test.

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