Now, probably, Dimitrov is not as happy.
Unfortunately, after a glorious start in Belgrade, things went south in Zadar. There was a lot of criticism on social media for the lack of physical distancing .
“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 had said early on in response to the criticism. “We are doing what the Serbian government is telling us and hopefully we soon will get back on tour collectively.
Then, on Sunday night, came the news that Dimitrov has tested positive for Covid-19. The Adria tour was cancelled at the last moment and there were calls for players to get tested.
But not for the first time since the lockdown started, Djokovic has chosen to follow his own not-so-correct path. Despite interacting with Dimitrov, the Serb has said that he will not be getting tested for Covid-19 because he has no symptoms.
(Update on June 23: Djokovic said he underwent test for coronavirus after returning to Belgrade; he and his wife Jelena have tested positive.)
Without any tennis being played on the courts, Djokovic has worryingly courted controversy with alarming regularity during the lockdown.
It all started with him saying he would refuse a coronavirus vaccine if one were to facilitate a return to normality for the world of tennis.
“Personally, I am opposed to a vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel. But if it becomes compulsory, what will happen?” he asked.
Then Djokovic’s wife, Jelena, received a ‘False information badge’ from Instagram for sharing a video promoting 5G conspiracy theories in relation to the virus.
Most damaging of all has been his association with self-styled wellness guru Chervin Jafarieh, with whom he has been participating in Instagram chats labelled ‘The Self Mastery Project’.
Among their many theories is that emotions can alter the molecular structure of water.
Djokovic did add a stipulation: “This is something that is not linked to any form of official way of presenting nutrition and how you should eat and drink. I know some people that, through energetical (sic) transformation, through the power of prayer, through the power of gratitude, they managed to turn the most toxic food, or maybe most polluted water into the most healing water, because water reacts. Scientists have proven that in an experiment that molecules in the water react to our emotions... to what has been said.”
The big problem with the theory was that it came from Japanese author Masaru Emoto – who is not a scientist.
Djokovic’s suggestion that he would give this year’s US Open a miss as limiting members of his staff that travel with him would be impossible for him also came in for a lot of criticism from fellow players.
His mother and father have chipped in with their own comments. And while they are nowhere near as disparaging as what Novak himself has indulged in, they have all added to the story arc of how the Djokovic clan is not dealing with the lockdown well. Without the tennis to distract them and us, just their idiosyncrasies remain.
As the president of the ATP Player’s Association and the top-ranked player in the world, Djokovic needs to be careful about what he does and says. Given his position, there are people who trust him and could very well look to ape his behaviour.
So when he comes out and talks about theories that have no standing according to science or even basic logic, he is playing a very dangerous game; a game that could be dangerous not just for him but for all his fans as well.
This isn’t to say that he hasn’t tried to do good. The 33-year-old has given 1 million Euros to help buy ventilators and other medical equipment in his homeland and he gave a similar amount to the locality of Lombardy in Italy, which was badly hit by the virus.
There were parts of his Instagram chats that were inspiring as well. They gave us a peek at a champion’s mentality and how a well-oiled machine operates but that is about it. Those small portions are probably the only good PR he’s got in the last few months.
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Djokovic knows that his opinions might not always be correct but he believes that everyone has the right to express their feelings, irrespective of whether they conform to the popular world-view or not.
“I’m not saying I’m blameless in this regard,” Djokovic had said on the Wish & Go podcast two weeks ago. “Sometimes I say some things, and when I think about them afterward, I realise that I shouldn’t have phrased them as I did. I’m human, and I have no problems admitting when I’m wrong. However, I’m not a robot, and I can’t spend my life in a bubble or a shell; that’s just not who I am.”
But in some cases, that is not a good enough excuse. No one expects Djokovic to not be his own person but it isn’t too much to expect him to think through what he is going to say before he says it. This isn’t about being a robot. Rather, this is about realising the place he has in this world and being more mindful of it.
In a way, it might not be wrong to say that Djokovic should understand that this isn’t just about himself, there’s a lot more to it.