A few hours after his straight-sets win against Alexander Zverev on Friday, world no. 1 Novak Djokovic posted a peculiar message on social media – peculiar because of the timing. “Always a pleasure sharing the court with you Sasha @AlexZverev. Great ending of the season for you. Best wishes in what awaits you on and off the court. Stay strong.”
At any other time, the tweet would be considered harmless and motivational. But now, as allegations of domestic violence have emerged against Zverev, the Serb’s message is arguably tasteless, especially since he’s claimed he doesn’t know “what happened truly.”
But after exiting the ATP Tour Finals on Friday, the 23-year-old German, in his final press conference of the year, continued to claim his innocence.
“What else can I say? I have said everything that I can,” Zverev said. “You know, it’s very unfortunate that these kinds of false allegations can put such damage and put the attention away from the sport or towards those, but it’s the world we live in right now unfortunately. Yeah, there is nothing more that I can do.”
Last month, a day after Zverev’s ex-girlfriend Brenda Patea revealed she is pregnant with his child, another former girlfriend Olga Sharypova took to Instagram to claim that the world no. 7 had been physically abusive during their relationship.
Later, in an interview with Racquet Magazine, she said the abuse allegedly started with Zverev hitting her head against a wall, before he resorted to choking her and punching her in the face.
Sharypova, also 23, was a budding tennis player from Russia. She met Zverev in their early teens through the tour, but they only started dating in September 2018. But the domestic violence would start soon too.
“The first time was in Monaco in his apartment,” she said in the interview. “I was going to leave because we had a really big fight. I was standing in the hallway, and he hit my head into the wall.”
Sharypova later claimed that after another fight during the 2019 US Open, Zverev threw her down “onto the bed, took a pillow, and then sat on (her) face.” Eventually, she fled the hotel, barefoot, with just her phone.
A few weeks later, at the Laver Cup in Geneva, Sharypova claimed they had their worst fight. “In other fights, he was pushing me, shoving me, twisting my arms, choking me. But this was the first time he punched me, really punched me (in the face).”
Sharypova added that after the German left the room, she injected herself with insulin in a suicide attempt, which forced Zverev to seek an event official for help.
Since Sharypova went public – though not seeking to press charges because she “doesn’t want anything from him” – Zverev has called her claims “unfounded” and “simply not true.”
At the Paris Masters two weeks back, after finishing runner-up, he said: “I know that there’s gonna be a lot of people that right now are trying to wipe a smile off my face but under this mask, I’m smiling brightly. I feel incredible on court… everything is great in my life. The people who are trying can keep trying.”
At the start of the Tour Finals in London, his tone changed, as he read a statement off his phone during a press conference: “We had our ups and downs, but the way our relationship was described in the public is not how it was. That’s not who I am, that’s not how I was raised by my parents. That’s not just simply who I am as a person. It makes me sad that the impact of such false accusations can have on the sport, on the outside world, on myself as well. I truly apologise that the focus has shifted away from the sport. We all love playing tennis, that’s what we’re here to do.”
The sport’s governing body that focuses on the men’s game has been silent for the most part. Only recently did it issue a statement.
“The ATP fully condemns any form of violence or abuse. We expect all members of the Tour to do the same, and to refrain from any conduct that is violent, abusive, or puts others at risk,” read the statement as reported by The Guardian. “In circumstances where allegations of violence or abuse are made against any member of the Tour, legal authorities investigate and due process is applied, we then review the outcome and decide the appropriate course of action. Otherwise, we are unable to comment further on specific allegations.”
In other words, the ATP will take action only if a legal case is involved. However, the governing body has still been silent in the case involving former world no. 16 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, who was arrested in May on charges of domestic violence against his ex-wife Neka Dorokashvili. A court case is allegedly pending.
The NBA and NFL in the United States have clear policies relating to personnel (be it players, support staff, administrators, owners or coaches) involved in domestic violence cases.
According to CBS News, the NFL’s policy states: “An individual is subject to discipline under the policy if the person is determined to be guilty of a criminal charge or if the NFL investigation demonstrates the person engaged in conduct prohibited by the policy. Depending on the nature of the violation and the person’s record, discipline may be a fine, suspension, community service, or a combination of the three. Violations involving assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault will result in a baseline six-game suspension without pay, with more if aggravating factors are present, such as the use of a weapon or a crime against a child. A second offence will result in banishment from the NFL.”
The NBA’s policy also addresses ‘domestic violence’ cases and states that “the NBA’s investigation may include the use of third-party resources including, but not limited to, outside legal counsel, outside investigators, or other individuals with relevant experience or expertise.” This is according to Section F of the 2017 NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
The ATP meanwhile, has no specific policy.
Most players have maintained their silence and not openly commented on Zverev’s case. Djokovic’s recent tweet came out in support of the German, and he also said in a press conference that he’s there if Zverev “needs to talk.”
The 17-time Grand Slam champion also said that the ATP should look into framing a policy.
Meanwhile, the only player to have spoken in support of Sharypova is former world no. 20 women’s player Daria Gavrilova.
She tweeted: “Good on Olya for opening up. It would have been pretty scary! I just hope that she can handle all the negativity and what’s to come next.”