Gulf Today

Djokovic to host Serbia tourney a year after COVID-19 fiasco


BELGRADE: World number one Novak Djokovic will relaunch the Serbia Open tournament in Belgrade on Monday, less than a year ater a charity event he organised in the city ended in fiasco.

Djokovic was among several players to test positive ater last year’s event, which was held in front of thousands of fans with no social distancing.

Organisers insist that the forthcomin­g ATP clay court event scheduled for April 19-25 will be very different -- no fans will be allowed and Covid protocols will apply.

The Novak tennis Centre in Belgrade will also stage a second clay court event from May 24 on the eve of Roland Garros.

Apart from Djokovic, other top players in Belgrade this week event will include Italy’s Mateo Berretini as well as Russian sensation Aslan Karatsev who made the Australian Open semi-finals earlier this year.

The tournament is organised by the 33-yearold’s family with his younger brother Djordje acting as director, and will be played in his “Novak” facility where he regularly trains.

The Serbian capital stepped in, relaunchin­g the Serbia Open ater a nine-year hiatus, ater Budapest withdrew from organising a tournament.

‘CONTROLLED SPACES’: Fans will not be allowed in the stands, while the players will have to follow “strict security protocols” prescribed by the ATP, Djordje Djokovic told the N1 TV channel.

“Masks will be mandatory, inside and outside. We want to respect the rules in order to protect the players.”

He added that the players would be housed in “controlled spaces”, noting that “isolation is currently a necessity”.

According to tennis expert Nebojsa Viskovic, organising the tournament by the book is crucial to revamp the world number one’s tarnished reputation as a host.

“The organisers will certainly want to improve this image (of Djokovic) and this is what motivated their decision that there would be no audience this year,” Viskovic told AFP.

SHIRTLESS IN A NIGHTCLUB: Months ater tennis went into lockdown last March, Djokovic launched an ill-fated charity competitio­n in Belgrade.

The Adria Tour packed in 4,000 spectators, players shook hands and took selfies with fans, and ball boys and girls handled sweaty towels.

Djokovic and other tennis stars including Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev were heavily criticised ater being photograph­ed partying shirtless at a teeming Belgrade night club.

The inevitable happened. Djokovic and his wife Jelena were among a clutch of people linked to the event to test positive for the virus -- Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki also falling ill.

The tournament -- branded by the media as a “coronaviru­s horror show” -- was abruptly cancelled because of the infections, Djokovic later saying he was “deeply sorry” that the tournament “caused harm”.

However, the Adria Tour was held in accordance with Serbian regulation­s at the time -- most restrictio­ns had been lited ahead of parliament­ary elections.

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