Novak Djokovic attacks ‘witch-hunt’ and casts doubt on US Open involvement

Novak Djokovic attacks ‘witch-hunt’ and casts doubt on US Open involvement

  • World No 1 angered by ‘malicious’ criticism of Adria Tour
  • ‘I still haven’t decided whether I will play in the US Open’

Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic says the upsurge in coronavirus cases in the US could be a problem for next month’s grand slam event.
Photograph: Andrej Isaković/AFP/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic says critics of his ill-fated Adria Tour have conducted a “witch hunt” against him, much of it “malicious”, and says he is likely to boycott the US Open next month.

As Rafael Nadal, the defending champion, is almost certain to miss New York as well, the tournament, due to begin on 31 August, is in danger of losing many of its leading contenders. Cancellation is out of the question, as it would cost the USTA an estimated $120m (£94m) in TV revenue, but there is a growing sense that many players from outside the United States are considering pulling out because of the uncertainties surrounding quarantining, and worries about a resurgence of the virus.

“I’m not sure I’ll play in the US Open,” Djokovic said on Wednesday. “I plan to play Madrid [which starts on 13 September, the day after the New York final], Rome and Roland Garros in September.” Nadal has also committed to those tournaments.

Djokovic, who tested positive for coronavirus, along with his wife, Jelena, after the aborted Balkans charity exhibition tour he and Goran Ivanisevic had organised, feels strongly he has been made a scapegoat for the outbreak of Covid-19 that followed.

“Lately I only see criticism, very malicious,” he told the Serbian paper, Sportski Zurnal. “Obviously, there is something more than that criticism, as if there is an agenda, as if it were a witch hunt. Someone has to fall, some person, some big name, to be the main culprit for everything.

“I leave it to others to say if that is fair. I don’t think it is. I think that we must learn from all of this and to adapt as we go along.”

Djokovic’s career friend and compatriot Viktor Troicki, the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, the Croat Borna Coric and Ivanisevic all contracted the virus, and an insular sense of victimhood grew up around them in the face of almost universal criticism.

The Croatian leg of the doomed tournament was abandoned moments before the final in Zadar – but the enduring image is the one that went viral on social media from Belgrade the previous weekend, when Djokovic led players and fans in a nightclub celebration that ignored social distancing.

It would seem Djokovic has taken unsubtle aim at his most persistent critic, Nick Kyrgios, the Australian who has been vocal and unequivocal in attacking him and others involved in the Adria Tour – particularly Alexander Zverev, seen partying the week after it was abandoned.

Djokovic said on 24 June in the immediate aftermath of the controversial tour: “I am so deeply sorry our tournament has caused harm. Everything the organisers and I did the past month, we did with a pure heart and sincere intentions. 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.”

Having tested negative in a second examination for Covid-19, he reiterated on Wednesday: “My intention was pure. I was whole heartedly committed to organising a humanitarian event to help players and tennis federations in the [Balkan] region. We complied with all the laws and regulations.… But we’ve learned our lessons and some things could have probably been done in a different way.”

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