Djokovic defends packed stands at tennis charity tour event

BELGRADE, Serbia — There was no social distancing and few among the thousands of fans wore face masks — and Novak Djokovic approved.

The fans filled the makeshift stands on Friday at Djokovic’s Belgrade tennis club on the banks of the Danube River for the opening day of his charity tennis tour organized by him and his family. Other top players in attendance included Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Jelena Jankovic.

The Serbian government recently lifted lockdown restrictions in the coronavirus pandemic, only recommending people stay 1 metre apart. On Wednesday, there was a 20,000-strong crowd for a soccer cup semifinal in Belgrade.

At the tennis, Djokovic defended the freedoms of the crowd.

“We have different circumstances and measures so it’s very difficult to think of international standards,” he said before the ceremonial opening of his Adria Tour.

He said Serbia has “better numbers” compared to other countries regarding coronavirus infections. Serbia has registered more than 12,000 COVID-19 cases and 252 deaths, although the numbers have been rising again since the government lifted most of the lockdowns and restrictions last month.

“You can also criticize us and say this is maybe dangerous but it’s not up to me to make the calls about what is right or wrong for health,” Djokovic said. “We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively.

“Of course, lives have been lost and that’s horrible to see, in the region and worldwide. But life goes on, and we as athletes are looking forward to competing.”

But this week, the top-ranked Djokovic said he was thinking of skipping the U.S. Open — if it is played — because he described precautions put on players as “extreme” and not ”sustainable.”

These included a 14-day quarantine for foreign players; a limit of one person per competitor at matches; limited ability to move around New York; and mandatory lodging near the tournament site in Queens.

Djokovic’s Adria Tour is scheduled to move on to neighbouring Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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