Djokovic criticises US Open bubble as he looks to establish players' association
Novak Djokovic has been a busy man during the US Open.
Brutally dispatching opponents on court, the top seed has also been lobbying players and officials off it as he looks to establish the Professional Tennis Players’ Association (PTPA).
In the build up to his ruthless win over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, Djokovic had been playing politics behind the scenes.
Despite no longer being the president of the ATP player council and therefore having no recognised standing in off-court matters, Djokovic was attempting to contact political figures in New York in order to help Adrian Mannarino get on court.
Mannarino is one of the players who had been in contact with Benoit Paire – the Frenchman who tested positive for coronavirus before the tournament began – and his match with Alexander Zverev was delayed for nearly three hours on Friday as different levels within the New York governance structure disagreed whether he should be allowed to take to court.
Eventually, Mannarino was allowed on court and was beaten in four sets by fifth seed Zverev. He was grateful for being allowed to play at all, which considering we are in the midst of a global pandemic is a refreshing attitude compared to those throwing their toys out of the pram for being asked to follow the same rules as everyone else on the planet.
Djokovic, of course, has his own motives. Desperately attempting to establish the PTPA – as he himself admitted, tennis’ governing bodies have so far been unwilling to interact with his breakaway group – he is no doubt relishing the opportunity to paint the picture of players being grossly mistreated.
That’s not to say he is wrong about a players’ union being needed in tennis – it is true that a body focused on players’ needs, particularly those further down the food chain, is no bad thing – but there is a sense that he is being opportunistic in what is a delicate and unprecendented situation.
‘I was aware of what was happening with Adrian Mannarino. I was actually contacted by his coach during that process,’ Djokovic said to kick-start another mammoth press conference answer.
‘I was communicating with his coach for a few hours actually, trying to help. I was speaking with ATP, trying to get more information from the tour managers.
‘I was also trying to get to the people that are in the highest positions in New York state through some of the contacts, trying to get to the governor of New York. I understood that he was the only one that could actually make the decision to revert the decision that Mannarino was withdrawn from the tournament.
‘In the end, to be honest, I don’t know what exactly happened. They just told me that finally Adrian was allowed to play and he was on the court, which I was very pleased to see. I know that the tour manager, Thomas, told me they were working on that for many hours. They also see a lot of inconsistencies.
‘Unfortunately it’s not in many cases up to ATP and USTA and WTA to make these decisions, make these calls, but on the New York health department. We knew that coming into States. We knew there is a high probability that situations like this might occur.’
Getting into his stride, Djokovic compared the situation of Hugo Dellien and Guido Pella – the South Americans who were booted out of the Western & Southern Open after being in contact with those who had tested positive – with the, largely French, group who were allowed to remain in the US Open.
And he’s right! The US Open group should also have been withdrawn. Although, that is not exactly how he views it…
‘I am not happy with the way these kind of circumstances and this situation with the French players was managed,’ added Djokovic. ‘I am not happy to see that Dellien and Pella were in a very similar situation and were withdrawn from the tournament. They had to be quarantined in their room.
‘Then a very similar situation happened with the French guys, that obviously Benoit was positive. We don’t even know if it was a false positive because after a few days he was negative.
‘That’s another thing that needs to be addressed, of course. There have been a lot of false positive tests as I’ve been hearing in sport, also in general. But in sport I think it was an NFL team or somebody, or a baseball team here, that had seven or eight players positive, but then they actually determined in the second test it was a false positive.
‘That hasn’t been cleared up here with Benoit.’
It’s worth pointing out at this stage that there is also no evidence that this is a false positive either and surely it’s the case that tournament organisers should be exercising caution.
‘He’s quarantined,’ Djokovic continued. ‘He’s out of the tournament. Then all the other guys that were close to him maybe during this time, they were allowed to play. Pella and Dellien were not allowed to play. They had a very similar situation. A lot of inconsistency.
‘Communication-wise, look, it’s not I think ideal. It can be better. But at the same time I also understand that the ATP and USTA don’t hold the decision-making process in their hands. Sometimes they have to just execute what the health department of New York and the City of New York orders them to do, otherwise the tournament might be compromised and canceled.
‘It’s not easy. I mean, sometimes I don’t want to be in the skin of people who were in the midst of this. At the same time, players I think are left with very little information, very little power to express themselves or to fight for their own right to play and to travel back home.
‘It’s very, very strange, I must say. Although these are strange times, very unpredictable what tomorrow brings. Obviously not just here in the States but in the world altogether.
‘I’m hoping this can be improved. I’m hoping this is only this year and only this tournament, but it doesn’t seem like that. What I’ve been hearing from Rome and Paris is maybe even tougher circumstances than here. We’ll most likely have to experience the bubble in Rome and Paris as we are experiencing here.
‘Then you have the second hotel here where a lot of players are staying where you have weddings happening, where regular people can come in, and half of the hotel or more is open for public. How is that a bubble? It’s very complicated issue that we are discussing here.’
Again, Djokovic is right. This is a very complicated situation. This is a pandemic. This is something that makes tennis players playing tennis pale into insignificance.
Unfortunately, some – including a man who organised a disastrous non-socially distanced tour that saw players contract coronavirus after dancing together topless in night clubs – are too tunnel-visioned to see that.
‘I’m just hoping that we will all learn from this more and be stronger I think as players specifically because the players association that has been formed a week ago is exactly supposed to live and is supposed to exist because of these kind of circumstances and because of the situation,’ said Djokovic.
‘We need to have support of the players. We need to stand by the players that are not treated in a right way. We have to do it all together.
‘This is the whole point. Yes, we want to play. Yes, we want to compete. But sometimes when it’s really not fair and someone is treated in a way that you don’t want to be treated, you have to stand by him. This is the right thing to do.
‘Hopefully the association can grow stronger and we can have that power to actually give the support in the future to the players.’
Follow Metro Sport across our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
For more stories like this, check our sport page.
Source: Read Full Article