World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic has come out in defense of the suggestions he made to Tennis Australia about improving quarantine conditions, which brought him some public condemnation and accusations from some of his own professional tennis colleagues.
After a spate of positive cases onboard flights bringing players into Melbourne ahead of the season-opening Australian Open Grand Slam, more than 70 of them have been confined to their hotel rooms in a two-week hotel quarantine which has dealt a blow to their training schedules and workout sessions.
Seeing the situation many players and himself were in, Djokovic requested better food, the shortening of isolation periods if players tested negative and having players moved to “private houses with tennis courts” to facilitate better preparations under the circumstances.
As reported by newsmen, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews firmly ruled out making exceptions to quarantine rules for Australian Open players and sticking to the very strict regulations and protocols of health and safety as mandated by the authorities for the safety of players, staff and the Australian population as a whole.
Then, responses to what was seen as Djokovic’s “demands” escalated into the negative online and in some parts of the media. Former world number 53, Australian Sam Groth, called out Djokovic, who is the head of the Professional Tennis Players’ Association, labelling the player’s requests “a selfish political move to gain popularity”. In addition, another Australian player, Nick Kyrgios, branded Djokovic “a tool” for it.
However, the Serb felt the need to publicly address these negative feedbacks when he published a statement saying his proposals were only suggestions rather than selfish demands, as they have been perceived by some sections of the media and co-players.
Clearly expressing his motivations, Djokovic wrote: “My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not every action is taken at face value and at times when I see the aftermath of things I do tend to ask myself if I should just sit back and enjoy my benefits instead of paying attention to other people’s struggles.
“I genuinely care about my fellow professionals and also understand very well how the world is run and who gets bigger and better and why.”
The 33-year-old also saw the need to be open up about what he called his “very good” relationship with TA Chief Executive Craig Tiley and confessed that he thought his suggestions would get rejected, even if he was not expecting the furore that followed.
“I have always had a very good relationship with Craig. I respect and appreciate all the effort he puts into making the Australian Open a place to look forward to coming back to each year.
“In an email exchange I used an opportunity to brainstorm about potential improvements that could be made to the quarantine of players in Melbourne that were in full lockdown.
“There were a few ideas and suggestions I gathered from other players in our group chat and there was no harm intended.
“Things in the media escalated and there was a general impression that the players (including myself) are ungrateful, weak and selfish because of their unpleasant feelings in quarantine. I am sorry that it has come to that because I do know how grateful many are. We all come to Australia to compete.”
Djokovic added a touch of the passionate as he expressed sentiments that most, if not all, of his colleagues have had to deal with in these difficult times of managing sports in the middle of a pandemic.
“Not being able to train and prepare before the tournament starts is really not easy. None of us ever questioned the 14 days of quarantine despite what is being said by media outlets.”
And he finished with the sterling words: “I am very much looking forward to playing in front of the people and joining the tennis frenzy and energy of the city that has always carried me towards many victories. I am also looking forward to seeing all my fellow players together in Melbourne. I am blown away by the numerous messages of gratitude and love that I have received during these past few days.”