The scenes from Novak Djokovic's Adria Tour this weekend were indeed surprising. Hundreds of unmasked fans packed into the stands, ball kids handled sweaty towels, and players hugged on the court.
Serbia recently relaxed its COVID-19 protocols (and has reported a low number of cases), so while the three-day Belgrade event didn’t violate any rules, the optics were still unexpected. In addition to all of the action on court (which Dominic Thiem would win), Djokovic partook in a friendly game of soccer with the participants as well a doubles exhibition with Jelena Jankovic, press conference and kids day.
Amazing time on the pitch with these guys @adriatourofficial ????????????????⚽️ #draganjovanovic @damirdzumhur @copedj @viktortroicki @djokomare #carlosgomezherrera @savomilosevic_official @nevenmarkovic1 @grigordimitrov @alexzverev123 @domithiem @dutzee @krajinovic_filip #AdriaTour
And there was a lively post-tournament celebration. Let’s hope Fergie wasn’t mistaken in writing “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody,” as shirtless players, including Djokovic, Thiem and Alexander Zverev, grooved to her 2013 hit.
But earlier in the week, Djokovic was unable to join the ATP’s Zoom call. This proved to be the straw that broke fellow ATP player Noah Rubin’s back. The New York native lit into the ATP player council president on Monday’s edition of his podcast, Behind the Racquet Pod.
“These pictures of him playing soccer have surfaced. You can make time for that but you can’t get on a Zoom call for 30 seconds?" Rubin said, adding that over 300 players joined the 3.5-hour call. "Stuff like that makes me fully aware of the logistical nightmare that is tennis and how there are too many moving parts, how it really is a lost cause in the end."
Rubin explained how most of the Zoom conference call was about the possibilities of Cincinnati and the US Open happening this summer. But his frustration with the world No. 1 is what is catching everyone's attention.
"Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are relied on,” Rubin said. “If you wanna look out for yourself, look out for yourself, this sport was built for that. But then don’t put yourself in a situation where others rely on you. If I can’t get in touch with you, if you aren’t helping me out, if you can’t get on a f***ing Zoom call, what is the point of all of this?”
With his ranking of No. 225, Rubin would normally be in the US Open qualifying draw—which looks like it will be absent from this year's edition.
“We’re ready to move forward as long as we get all the approvals we need.” @usta spokesman Chris Widmaier confirms that the US Open will be a go—in New York City, as scheduled, without fans and with other changes—provided there is government support.https://t.co/E8zR7F0Q3z— TENNIS (@Tennis) June 15, 2020
The 25-year-old disagreed with top players—which includes Djokovic, Zverev and Thiem—expressing concerns over playing a Grand Slam without a full entourage.
“The fact that we’re giving you a tournament with still 95 percent of the prize money of last year, you’re not playing in front of the fans, were giving you that prize money," Rubin said. "And you’re complaining that the physios at the ATP might not be good enough for your two weeks there? Like shut the f*** up. Just understand what is actually taking place.
Despite his displeasure with the current state of affairs, Rubin still believes in the sport, as well as the many fans who love it.
"We can talk about tennis nonstop, and it's in a sh**** f***ing place right now thanks to everybody at the top," Rubin said. "But I still believe in the sport and the people backing it. This could be a turning point."