Novak Djokovic, the faultless tennis machine. World number one. A winning head-to-head record against Nadal and Federer. Currently the third most decorated male player of all time, determined to soon vault the final rungs of that ladder.
On the tennis court, his game is sublime. A Serbian national hero, murals plastered across walls of his hometown and country. A global icon.
So, why are we letting him get away with his harmful off-court antics?
Nick Kyrgios put it best: compared to anything “irresponsible” the Aussie showman has ever done or had classed as “stupidity”, hosting an international tournament amidst a worldwide pandemic “takes the cake”.
To help put Djokovic’s actions into perspective, let’s rewrite them. This will be a similar story, but set in a nearby parallel universe. Change the tennis headlines: replace “Novak Djokovic” with “Andy Murray”.
An alternate reality
In the world we’re familiar with, Andy Murray is frequently portrayed as moody and unlikeable by the British press. This, despite his achievements and, frankly, likeability.
A supporter in both words and actions of equality for the women’s game and wheelchair tennis. Winner of two Olympic gold medals for his country (Djokovic is yet to bring Serbia one). More recently, backing the government message to ”Stay Home, Stay Safe”.
Regardless of this, he gets a hard time. So, in our parallel universe, he has had a personality transplant and takes the lead role from Novak.
Would you like Andy Murray if he did this?
Firstly, it’s said the ATP tour could resume if all players were to be vaccinated. Andy immediately takes to Facebook to state his refusal. Anti-vaxxer and proud.
Chief Medical Advisor for the government Chris Whitty warns this is dangerous. Andy using his prominent profile to share beliefs unfounded in science or public interest is proven to have a negative impact on the well-being of society. But Andy insists on sharing his stance – it’s freedom of speech!
As president of the ATP player council, Andy also vocally objects to equality for the women’s game.
Anyway, while the world reels from the effects of coronavirus, Andy invites a few of his top tennis mates from around the world along to play a mini-tour, starting in Britain.
Crowds, clubbing, and no covid-testing. Andy has a right old giggle playing matches, exhibition basketball and even drags all his pals to have a jiggle on a local dance floor. There’s no space for social distancing when you’re having this much fun!
Parallel party-pooping problems
Sadly, the idyllic bubble Andy established (of a few thousand close friends, fans, and family) was soon to burst. Someone always has to ruin it!
The culprit is Grigor Dimitrov. Prior to the tournament, he’d isolated for three months. So, he wasn’t offered a test upon arrival in Britain. But now he’s selfishly caught the virus on the second leg of the tour and spoilt the the show for everyone else.
The rest of the tournament is cancelled and Andy is fuming. However, cleverly he realises it might hurt his reputation as the amicable joker of the tour if he directly tells Grigor what a baby he’s being, so he drafts in Mum.
Mum to the PR rescue
Judy goes to the Daily Mail to tell them what a nasty piece of work that foreigner Grigor Dimitrov is. Coming over here, stealing and spreading our virus, and then swanning off to Monaco. She tells them it’s all horrible, handsome Grigor’s fault and they should stop picking on her ugly duckling darling.
While she’s at it, she also decides to have a pop at Federer. “Why doesn’t he retire?” Apparently Roger is jealous of her boy catching him up in the record books and should just give up.
This backfires, though, as even the gods don’t exercise any power over what Roger Federer does with a tennis racket. Sometimes it barely seems the laws of physics apply.
Back to reality, it’s not just Dimitrov who contracted covid-19 on the Adria Tour. Djokovic, his wife, and his fitness coach. Other players and their entourages, too, including the pregnant wife of Viktor Troicki. NBA star Nikola Jokic was recently rubbing shoulders with Novak and also caught the disease.
Imagine the stick Andy Murray would get from Spurs fans if he gave Harry Kane the disease just before the Premier League restarted!
All things considered, it’s no surprise Djokovic frequently plays the pantomime villain confronting Roger, Rafa, and Andy’s heroics. Recent events suggest, however, that maybe it’s time we drop the “pantomime” from that label.
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